Electricity Consumer Rights: Power Ministry publishes first draft

The draft is open for comments from stakeholders
For the first time, the Ministry of Power has published a detailed set of draft rights for electricity consumers under the Electricity Act, 2003. While the Act currently has a consumer charter, the latest draft empowers consumers and has introduced new supply rights for them. The draft is open for comments from stakeholders.

lists out the proposed rights, what it means for the consumers and what all new services the power distribution companies would have to offer:

1) New connections to have Prepaid/Smart Prepaid meters: The draft rules mandate that no electricity connection should be without a meter and it should be a prepaid meter or a smart prepaid meter. Unlike the prevalent meters, a prepaid meter entails a mobile phone like recharge as per use. A smart prepaid meter additionally can be remotely monitored and operated.

This helps consumers pay only for as much electricity they use. It also helps monitor electricity usage and thereby reduces wastage. It would also help consumers resolve issues of delayed billing and incorrect metering.A smart meter like several other smart household items can be operated, recharged or monitored with a phone. Several new housing societies now prefer prepaid meters and the Centre is also pushing for 100 per cent prepaid metering for two years now. The proposed rules will give the idea a major push.

2) Online bill payment: For where the prepaid meters are not installed, the draft rights have proposed that beyond Rs 1,000, the electricity bill would have to be paid online. It has also suggested that consumers should be compensated for paying digitally through a rebate. Several power distribution companies, mostly privately owned in Delhi, Mumbai etc offer the option of online payment. However, this idea may face snag in rural areas where electricity bills do go beyond Rs 1,000 but digital payment is not that prevalent. In urban areas it will improve revenues of the discoms.

3) Reliable power supply: The draft rules have laid down the principle of 24x7 power supply to the consumers as their right. It however has said that for some categories like agriculture, the specific state electricity regulatory commission (SERC) can specify lower hours of supply.

4) Compensation to consumers: This is one of the most important additions to the electricity consumer rights. While some SERCs do have provisions in their state for compensation to the discoms, but the draft rights pave way for automatic compensation to the consumers. It will also provide directions to those states which still don’t have any compensation provision.

“The draft rules by the union power ministry have introduced an automatic compensation provision which would be very path breaking if implemented. If you have a smart meter or prepaid meter, interruption duration and other service parameters would be automatically known. Discoms will therefore be automatically obliged to compensate the consumer if s/he raises a concern. This will bring real accountability,” said Shantanu Dixit, group convenor, Prayas Energy Group.

Among the conditions laid out under the draft rights, a consumer can claim compensation for no supply, interrupted electricity supply, time taken for resolving electricity supply issues by the discoms. 

Dixit however pointed out that to make this a reality, the entire system needs to be deployed and properly tested. “Alongwith this it is important to build consumer confidence through effective monitoring and learning from pilot deployment and stringent measures to ensure data privacy,” he said.

5) Electricity Prosumer: Globally prosumers is a fairly common trend but in India this is a latest phenomenon wherein an electricity consumer also becomes a supplier. Any general consumer can install a renewable energy system at his premises and sell excess power back to the grid. The draft rights have laid down the discoms needs to follow for easing the process application, selling electricity, net metering and compensation. Anyone can set up a renewable system and the energy generated and sold would be adjusted against the supply made by the discoms. 

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