With the growth of capitalism, jurists and the courts of law have attempted to enforce one basic principle: where a fee is involved, there should be a right. However, this principle is often violated when it comes to the supply of electricity as citizens pay for a service that is not provided to them.
This week, The Express Tribune looks at the rights of electricity consumers.
In the light of law, charges and the facilities provided in return should be proportional. However, electricity consumers are often forced to pay inflated bills as compared to the electricity they consume as power utilities suspend supply in the name of “scheduled load-shedding”.
Karachi being the country’s largest city and industrial hub should have an efficient power generation and distribution system but it provides just one example of the lack of balance between a facility provided and the charges levied. The rest of the provinces fare much worse in this ‘pay for services’ relationship.
Lack of consumer protection
It is unfortunate that relevant laws protect power generating and distribution companies but do little to protect the rights of consumers. For example, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) Act of 1997 and the Water and Power Development Authority Act of 1998 deal with the regulation of power distributing companies. Interestingly, the Consumer Service Manual devised by Nepra places almost all responsibility on consumers without putting a single obligation on the commercial companies. the Electricity Act 1910, now more than a century old, is the only law that protects the rights of consumers through regulations that safeguard consumer rights and also specify operational terms for “licenced” power utilities.
Consumers often complain of being forced to bribe power utilities’ staff to get a new electricity connection, which should otherwise be a free-of-charge service provided to consumers at their doorstep. K-Electric’s official website has a form to apply for a new electricity connection, but this form is not considered the final one. The Pesco website lists the documents needed for a new connection and outlines the procedure but is of no help in uploading an application directly or clearly stating where to submit the documents.
Section 139-A(1) of the Electricity Act provides that anyone receiving electric power in an unauthorised manner may face a three-year sentence, a fine of Rs5,000, or both.
The act provides that licenced power suppliers may suspend electricity only in certain situations, such as to save lives during cyclones, floods, storms or other occurrences beyond its control. The Sindh High Court (SHC) ordered the K-Electric management in 2009 to announce the load-shedding schedule at least a week in advance for the public’s convenience.
Like other utility departments, electricity consumers have difficulty in registering their grievances, including those regarding excessive billing. Consumers are only aware of the utility’s complaint centres but there is another forum—the Electric Inspector —where they can register complaints regarding overcharging.
According to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government’s website, the Electric Inspector works under the Electricity Act and all disputes between consumers and Pesco are adjudicated by him.
In recent years, the SHC has advised hundreds of litigants to approach the Electric Inspector regarding their problems, as inaction on the part of the power utility’s complaint centres and a lack of awareness regarding the alternative forum puts added pressure on the high court.
The Electricity Act says:
“Where any difference or dispute arises as to the amount of energy to be taken or guaranteed as aforesaid, or as to the cost or any service line, or as to the amount or the expenses incurred under the third proviso to sub-clause (1), the matter shall be referred, on the application of either party, to an Electric Inspector who, within a maximum period of 90 days from the date of such application, and after affording the parties an opportunity of being heard, shall decide the matter; and where the Electric Inspector fails to decide the matter within the said period or where either party declines to accept the decision of the Electric Inspector, the matter shall be referred to the Provincial Government whose decision shall be final.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th,2014.