Unlock 1.0: High power bills irk consumers, celebs take to social media

Several consumers, especially commercial and industrial ones, have claimed that as their shops were shut, there is no reason why they should be getting electricity bills running into thousands
Noted stand-up comedian Vir Das last week took to Twitter, asking if anyone else has also received an electricity bill which is "triple the usual amount". There was a stream of replies including, those of many celebrities, all acknowledging high electricity bills. Actress Taapsee Pannu even shared photos of her bill in which she was charged Rs 36,000.

Not just Mumbai, consumers from Delhi, Bengaluru, Noida, Lucknow, Kochi, Chennai and several cities across different states have taken to social media to complain about higher-than-usual electricity charges. These complaints are against both, state and private power distribution companies.

The respective power distribution companies (discoms) have tried to allay the concerns of the consumers by telling them that these are provisional bills, as the meter reading could not happen due to the Covid-induced lockdown. 

Under normal circumstances, a discom would send a meter reader to visit customers to record their electricity consumption depending on the billing cycle, which could be monthly or once in two months. However, under directions from the respective state electricity regulators, discoms withdrew meter reading during the lockdown period starting March 22. In the absence of meter reading, electricity consumers were receiving estimated bills based on their average consumption of the previous three months (December, January and February) during the lockdown period. 

"Even in the peak summer months, while consumers consumed more energy, the bills were raised for lower consumption (base February/March)," said Tata Power in a press statement on Saturday. Electricity consumption increases from April till August-September due to high usage of fans, air conditioners etc.  

However, several consumers, especially commercial and industrial ones, have claimed that as their shops were shut, there is no reason why they should be getting electricity bills running into thousands. Restaurant owners, small shopkeepers, industrial units which were shut since March are shocked at receiving inflated bills, according to complaints shared on Twitter and several WhatsApp groups.

There are also complaints that the average bill is nowhere close to the past payment made by consumers. Actor and director Renuka Shahane wrote on Twitter that she has been charged twice for May month and the amount is different and higher.

In Mumbai, residents and local politicians are writing to the state government against the inflated bills. Several consumer rights activists are circulating messages on WhatsApp to boycott payment of electricity bills. One such activist has even urged the state government to ask discoms to give consumers discount as "they are sitting at home and consuming more electricity due to the pandemic".

Several discoms are urging the consumers to direct their concern with meter reading to them. This has created mayhem with consumers alleging that discoms are fleecing consumers. 

In Delhi, the two private discoms have now started several campaigns to educate the consumers about provisional bills. Through tweets and tutorial videos, BSES Delhi is informing the public how a provisional bill is calculated. It has also urged consumers to do self-meter reading and upload it to the mobile app of the discom to get correct bills. 

"At present, social distancing is the only vaccine against Covid. You can do self meter reading and get rewarded for doing so #GoDigital #StayHomeStaySafe" - BSES wrote on its Twitter handle. 

Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution company is distributing pamphlets to raise awareness on provisional bills. Discoms in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are also planning similar exercises. 

With the Centre and various states declaring a unlock, discoms - both state and private - are now starting to take actual meter readings. 

Discoms have pointed out, the actual meter reading for the last three months is now being recalculated.  

As December, January and February are winter months, the average consumption is lesser than the summer months of April–June 2020.

Upon obtaining the actual meter reading in June, the consumers will receive adjusted bills and the amounts will be debited/credited based on actual consumption and by incorporating applicable tariff slab benefits, said a discom executive. Though adjusted for payments made in April and May, the final bills sent to households are higher considering increased consumption during summer and long hours spent at home due to the work-from-home set up, he said.  

"This rise in electricity consumption has been witnessed by the household consumers of all the utilities due to the lockdown impositions and enhanced power consumption patterns was observed amongst such consumers. In some segments, power consumption has increased by two-three-fold," said a sector executive.  

Moreover, a large number of individuals also refrained from going out, as well as worked and studied from home during this pandemic.

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