Monday, March 18, 2019

Bombay HC order spells respite for power consumers

In a ruling that offers some relief to consumers, Bombay high court has held power supply cannot be cut over non-payment of past consumption if the dues were not reflected as arrears continuously for the preceding two years. However, the decision to disconnect would depend on "facts and circumstances of each case", the court held. The HC ruling by a full bench of justices S C Dharmadhikari, A M Badar and Bharathi Dangre was on a reference to settle "conflicting views" over restrictions provided in the Electricity Act for recovery of arrears pertaining to a period prior to two years unless the arrears have been continuously shown in the bills.

A bunch of petitions had been filed by large industrial users such as Ambuja Cement and other cement majors and a Prabhadevi-based Beach Tower Condominium and Maker Towers E and F Premises Cooperative Housing Society at Cuffe Parade with Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd and Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transmission (BEST) 
undertaking. In some cases, the decisions were issued by the Electricity Ombudsman. Some petitions were a decade old. "Electricity is a material resource and belongs to the public. It is very difficult for the state to ensure regular electricity supply to those who require the same regularly. In fact, equal distribution of material resources so as to achieve common good is the constitutional goal," said the HC adding, "It is in public interest and for public good that defaulters are to be deprived of the supply of electricity.'' The question before the HC was whether utilities could in a bill include, for the first time, a demand for power supplied or consumed more than two years prior to the bill date. 

"Distribution Licensee cannot demand charges for consumption of electricity for a period of more than two years preceding the date of the first demand of such charges,'' held the bench adding, "bill may include the amount for the period preceding more than two years provided...the amount is shown as arrears...''  In other words, power supply cannot be disconnected on the ground of non-payment of past electricity dues if such dues are not shown as arrears for a continuous period of preceding two years.

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