How's the electricity bill?
Far higher than usual for some in Maharashtra and too high for many, that's for sure.
If you're among those who recently saw an massive increase in their electricity bill, you can take heart in the fact that you're not alone.
Over the past few days, many Maharashtra citizens, including celebrities such as Taapsee Pannu, Huma Qureshi, director Bijoy Nambiar, Renuka Shahane and Vir Das, have taken to social media to express consternation over an unexpected rise in their electricity bills and accused power companies of 'inflating' their statements.
It all kicked off when Pannu, and several other celebrities and citizens, took to Twitter on 29 June to share screenshots of her electricity bill from April to June and tagged power supplier Adani Electricity. She said she her bill amount for April and May ranged between Rs 3,000 and 4000 but was charged Rs 36,000 for the current month.
"Three months of lockdown and I wonder what appliance(s) I have newly used or bought in the apartment only last month to have such an insane rise in my electricity bill. @AdaniElecMum what kind of power are you charging us for?" she wrote on Twitter with the screenshot of her electricity bills for three months.
In a subsequent tweet, the 32-year-old actor said she received a bill of Rs 8,640 for an apartment which isn't in use. "And this one is for an apartment where no one stays and it's only visited once in a week for cleaning purpose @AdaniElecMum. I am now worried if someone is actually using the apartment without our knowledge and you have helped us uncover the reality," the actor wrote sarcastically.
COVID-19, heatwave, WFH to blame: Cos
The four power companies in Maharashtra, Mahavitaran Ltd, BEST, Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd (AEML), and Tata Power Company Limited (TPCL), dismissed such allegations and blamed the higher bills on the situation due to COVID-19, the heatwave and work from home.
Adani Electricity Mumbai Ltd (AEML), which distributes power to around 30 lakh consumers from Bandra to Bhayandar and Kurla to Mankhurd, issued a statement saying they had verified her meter reading and found it to be correct. The AEML further released a statement saying the bills for May, April and March were based on the average of February, January and December since physical metre readings were halted in March due to COVID-19,
"Actual consumption in the months of April, May and June is comparatively higher due to seasonal impact (summer) and increased usage (advent of Lockdown/WfH)," the statement further read. AEML said the consumers will now start receiving bills based on their consumption with "appropriate tariff slab benefits." "The bill amount for the past period shall be accounted as per Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) guidelines," the statement added.
As per a report in NDTV, TPCL and Mahavitaran Ltd echoed Adani's claim. Tata Power said, "Post Unlock 1.0, we have resumed meter reading activity and bills are being generated based on actual readings. The final bill is raised after adjusting consumption and bill amount as per the estimated bills raised in the interim period."
The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited told NDTV, "Our meter readers have started visiting residential areas to note down readings. This will take into account the consumption from March to May. People have been billed less as no meter readings were taking place during this period. People were charged on an average basis. But now the bill will be higher."
Celebs, common man cry foul
Replying to Pannu's tweet, actor Pulkit Samrat said his bill was Rs 30,000. Actor Renuka Shahane too shared her bills on Twitter, writing that she was charged Rs 5,510 for May but was billed unexpectedly higher in June by Adani Electricity. "Dear @AdaniElecMum I got a bill of Rs5,510/= on the 9th of May while in June I got a bill of Rs 29,700 combining May and June where you've charged me Rs 18,080 for the month of May. How did Rs 5,510/= become Rs 18,080/?"
Qureshi said she too was puzzled that her bill jumped to Rs 50,000 when it was Rs 6,000 last month. "What are these new electricity rates? @AdaniElecMum Last month I paid 6k .. and this month 50K?! What is this new price surge? Kindly enlighten us."
Nambiar said he was frustrated with the 'inflated bill' which he received for the current month. "I am just joining the bandwagon to vent my frustration against @AdaniElecMum. Without a single new appliance being bought & barely using air conditioning - my bill for this month has tripled!" the "David" director tweeted.
Quoting actor-comedian Vir Das's tweet, where he asked if anyone else in Mumbai got an electricity bill that is triple of what they usually pay, celebrities including, Neha Dhupia, Dino Morea and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub replied they are experiencing surge in bills.
Filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan said it's "ridiculous" that despite so many complaints, Adani Electricity hadn't issued even a "correction." "So many people talking about the absolutely ridiculous electricity bill inflation by AdaniElecMum! And yet no correction or apology! Meter reading can't be an excuse for this broad daylight robbery at a time when most people don't have sources of income! Horrible," the Masaan director wrote. Mumbaikars have added their voices to the howls of outrage from celebrities.
Pavan Acharya, who received a bill of Rs 15,000 told Mumbai Mirror, "I had some sort of an idea that our bills during the past three months were being averaged out and expected this month's bill to be on the higher side, but I was definitely not prepared for the amount that I got."
Pranay Joshi, another customer of Adani, who stays in a Ghatkopar slum told the newspaper he used to get a monthly bill of Rs 500 on average. "I tried getting in touch with the customer service but got no reason. A few friends of mine too had similar complaints of a spike in the bill. No one has come to take the reading of the usage. How was the bill generated then? The last reading taken was on March 10. Even if I calculate my total usage for the last three months, the maximum bill should have been Rs 1,500 and not more than that. It's really unfair to generate such heavy bills."
MERC backs companies
The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) backed the claims of these utilities saying that the commission had allowed utilities to raise bills based on average consumption during the lockdown period of March to May, except where automatic meter reading facility was available.
"The present bills raised on actual meter readings are of the summer months where the consumption is normally high and the bills are always of higher amounts. Hence the balance amount payable after adjusting the average bill amounts for each of the three months March, April and May have led to a higher bill that was issued in June," it said.
MERC has also asked the utilities to provide the option of easy monthly instalments (EMI) and directed them to not disconnect power supply over non-payment of dues until grievances are redressed.
Address consumers' grievances: Govt
After the MERC sided with power companies, Maharashtra energy minister Nitin Raut asked State-owned Mahadiscom to set up helpdesk to address consumers' grievances. Raut directed Mahadiscom to set up helpdesk at divisional levels and also take initiatives to spread awareness among customers about the billing process by reaching out through various platforms like TV, radio, webinar and Facebook, among others.
The state discom has decided to allow EMI option for three months for making the payment of the bill for June. Raut also asked the discom to grant a discount of two percent to consumers who have promptly paid the bills for June as well as for those who would be paying the bill amount in lump sum. Also, those who had left for their villages during the lockdown period but have paid the bills for the three months on estimated basis, would get a refund in case they have paid extra amount.
'Will install 7 lakh smart metres'
AEML said it will soon install over seven lakh smart meters in the coming months to ensure real-time information to consumers on their electricity consumption. MERC has "approved capital expenditure schemes for the installation of smart meters for automated meter reading. AEML shall install more than seven lakh smart meters in the coming months. This action, will provide real-time information to the consumer on their consumption and they will get meter reading without human intervention", a company statement said.
Apart from this, as per the directions of the MERC, the company has offered EMI facility of three months to consumers to pay their bills. AEML further said the company has undertaken various measures such as virtual help desk, EMI facility as well a proactive awareness initiatives to increase clarity on the billing process amongst the consumers.
"The consumers will be receiving bills basis their actual consumption with applicable tariff slab benefits. All necessary actions have been undertaken are in accordance with the rules and regulations laid down by the state government and MERC," the company spokesperson said.
Mumbai-based businessman files plea in HC
A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Bombay High Court seeking a direction to the state government and power service providers to reduce the amount. The PIL filed by Mumbai-based businessman Ravindra Desai has also demanded that the government and companies like Adani and Tata Power formulate a strategy to avoid excess power bills in future.
Desai has sought an interim stay on payment of the electricity bill of June 2020 for each citizen pending hearing of his petition and waiver of late payment charges.
Desai filed the petition on 29 June after he received his power bill which was ten times more than his usual bill. The plea claimed that residents of Maharashtra have incurred losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown. The plea names Minister of Energy, the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co Ltd, Adani Electricity, Tata Power and the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission.
The petition is likely to be taken up for hearing on 3 July.
With inputs from PTI