Tuesday, November 3, 2015

U. P. Power Corporation Limited V. Vimla Devi and another October 30, 2015


                       CIVIL  APPELLATE  JURISDICTION

                       CIVIL APPEAL NO.  9148  OF 2015
                  (Arising from S.L.P. (C) No. 23721/2012)

U. P. Power Corporation Limited
and others                              … Appellant (s)


Vimla Devi and another                  … Respondent (s)

                               J U D G M E N T


    Leave granted.

The short dispute in this case pertains to the steps taken by the appellant-
Corporation for levying the energy charges on the first respondent  for  the
period of the alleged meter fault. On the basis of the inspection  conducted
on 25th/28th November,  2009  by  the  Junior  Engineer  of  the  appellant-
Corporation, the first respondent was served with a notice dated  23.03.2010
demanding an amount of Rs.1,97,815/- towards energy  charges  which  escaped
billing. The first respondent filed a writ petition before  the  High  Court
which was disposed of by judgment dated 18.05.2010 permitting  her  to  file
objections and directing the Executive Engineer to consider  the  objections
and  pass  a  speaking  order.  The  Executive  Engineer,  by  order   dated
08.06.2010, passed the revised order limiting  the  demand  to  Rs.50,891/-.
The said order was challenged before the High Court in C.W.P. No.  19347  of
2012 leading to the impugned judgment.

The High Court, having conducted  an  elaborate  inquiry  into  the  matter,
found that there was no justification for the demand. It was held  that  the
proper procedure prescribed under law was not  followed  in  inspection  and
preparation of the  report.  Still  further,  it  was  held  that  even  the
appellate authority did not discharge its functions  as  expected  of  them.
The displeasure on the conduct of the assessing officer  and  the  appellate
authority was directed  to  be  recorded  in  their  annual  character  roll
(annual confidential report) for the relevant period. The writ petition  was
thus allowed with  costs  of  Rs.10,000/-  to  be  paid  by  the  appellant-
Corporation with liberty to recover the same from  the  officials  concerned
after conducting an appropriate inquiry.  There  was  also  a  direction  to
communicate the order to the Chief Secretary for ensuring compliance of  the
directions by the High Court. And thus aggrieved, the  Corporation  and  its
officials have come up in appeal.

Heard learned Counsel appearing for the appellants and the respondents.

Though several contentions are raised by the  Counsel  on  both  sides,  the
dispute  essentially  is  in  a  very  narrow  compass.  According  to   the
appellants, for whatever  reason,  there  was  short  assessment  of  energy
charged at the premises of the first respondent during  the  period  between
05.11.2008, when the old meter was replaced and 31.01.2010.  It  is  not  in
dispute that a new  meter  was  installed  at  the  premises  of  the  first
respondent on 23.01.2010. It is fairly conceded that when the meter  at  the
premises  of  a  consumer  is  reported  to  be   non-functional,   and   if
consequently, there is short assessment for a long period, the bills can  be
revised for that period but limiting to twelve months. What  should  be  the
basis of the assessment, is the simple question.

There is no case for the appellants that the meter installed  on  23.01.2010
had any fault thereafter, in any  case,  for  quite  some  time.  Therefore,
having regard to the entire facts and circumstances of the case, we  are  of
the view that interest of justice will be served if the energy bills of  the
first respondent are revised for a  period  of  twelve  months  ending  with
31.01.2010, taking the average of twelve months from  01.02.2010.  In  other
words, based on the average  consumption  for  a  period  of  twelve  months
beginning from 01.02.2010, the energy bills of the first  respondent  for  a
period of twelve months ending with 31.01.2010 shall  be  revised.  A  fresh
demand on that basis shall be issued to  the  first  respondent  within  two
months from today. After adjusting the amounts already  paid  for  the  said
period, the first respondent shall pay the  balance  amount  within  another
one month  failing  which  it  will  be  open  to  the  appellants  to  take
appropriate coercive action permitted under law. It is made clear that  this
order has thus given a quietus to the entire  dispute  raised  in  the  writ
petition regarding the short assessment.

Having said that we have also  to  address  the  grievances  raised  by  the
appellants with regard to the adverse observations against  the  conduct  of
the officers and a direction by the High Court to record displeasure in  the
annual confidential report  of  the  assessing  officer  and  the  appellate
authority. Going through the materials available on record  as  produced  by
both sides, we find that there is no justification for  any  such  direction
by the High Court. Apparently, the authorities have  only  discharged  their
functions under  law.  It  appears  that  there  has  been  some  procedural
irregularity. But that does not mean that there is any malafide  or  illegal
conduct on the part of the officers. It may be noted that even according  to
the High Court, an inquiry is to be conducted for fastening  the  liability.
If that be so, there  is  no  justification  for  the  remarks  against  the
assessing officer and the appellate authority. It is seen from  the  records
that there is marked difference in the pattern of consumption after the  new
meter  was  installed  in  January,  2010.  In  such  circumstances,  it  is
difficult to digest any allegation of motivated conduct on the part  of  the
two officers.

Accordingly,  the  appeal  is  allowed   with   directions   as   above   on
reassessment. The adverse  remarks  on  the  conduct  of  the  officers  are
expunged and the directions contained in paragraphs-48, 49  and  51  of  the
impugned judgment are vacated. The order on costs is also vacated.

There shall be no order as to costs.

                     (T. S. THAKUR)

                    (KURIAN JOSEPH)
New Delhi;
October 30, 2015.

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