Mumbai: Consumers unite to fight against inflated electricity bills
Citizens organise meets and register protests via different platforms, in a bid to access electricity companies and question their 'inflated' bills, some of which run into tens of thousands
Residents across the city continue to protest against 'inflated' electricity bills as service providers who did not have the personnel to read meters during the lockdown, have sent across bills on average or estimated consumption. Most consumers are now reeling under financial stress as providers seek "unbilled units" through the lockdown month. People are, however, sceptical of these amounts and are coming together to lodge protests.
Systematic and proactive protests are being organised through various platforms to ensure their complaint reaches the right ears.
When Borivli's Ravi Nair got a "very high" electricity bill, he realised that he was not alone. "I got a bill of approximately R7,000 when I used to get somewhere in the range of R2,000 earlier," Nair said, adding, This is absolutely ridiculous. I also learnt there are many others asking about this aggregate or estimate or whatever is being claimed these bills are based on."
Ravi Nair, Borivli resident
Nair put out a voice note on social media on June 23 asking people to contact him if they are in a similar situation. "I got almost 5,000 calls," he stated. Nair added, "If our voices are not heard, no cognizance is taken, then this may segue into a 'civil disobedience' movement, where people may simply fold their bills and deposit them at different bill collection centres," he finished.
For the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it was about garnering support by adopting the Aarey complaint model. Said Mumbai's Ruben Mascarenhas, national joint secretary of the party, "We have started a portal called hisaabdo.in where people can lodge their complaint. We have approximately 500 complaints in a very short time. We used the same method when there was large scale outrage about the tree felling for the Metro car shed at Aarey. We reached the BMC's tree authority that way." Mascarenhas said that in a COVID world, it is important to take the virtual route to question or complain. "The online dharna is the new thing," he finished.'
Prerak Choudhary, Colaba resident
Prerak Choudhary, on the frontline of the electricity bill issue, said, "We have a group where people from South Mumbai have been asked to share their bill with grievance via WhatsApp and e-mail to a certain address. These will be compiled and a meeting with the BEST authorities supported by MP Arvind Sawant will be sought."
Choudhary added that there is an online meeting today (Saturday) "specifically for Colaba residents where people will be educated about a Grievance Redressal Forum for consumers." This meet will be anchored by members of the Clean Heritage Colaba Residents Association (CHCRA). "A legal recourse cannot be ruled out, but with a huge number of consumers, we hope for healthy negotiation and an amicable way to settle this," he added.
The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), regulating the electricity sector in the State, has a press release on its website. Excerpts from the release read: "The Commission has come across media reports citing some unrest amongst consumers about increased electricity bills for June 2020."
Another point says, "The Commission took note of the measures being taken by the utilities to redress consumer grievances and directed the utilities to further enhance transparency and set up a robust monitoring mechanism to ensure that the specific grievances of consumers are promptly responded." It has a reassuring, "The Commission is keeping a vigil on the billing issues and would not like any consumer to be put to any undue inconvenience by the distribution licensees."
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