Note: This blog is based on my personal experience with electricity billing and consumption during nationwide-lockdown due to Chinese Coronavirus pandemic. Thoughts expressed in it are contextual and represented in the individual capacity. I thank all those who submitted their data and opinion for this post. 🙂
As if the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic was not enough, electricity consumers in Maharashtra are facing another manmade problem. This time, in terms of hefty electricity bills! Yes, electricity consumers in the state received inflated bills in June. Distribution companies (Discoms such as MSEDCL, AEML, TPL) offices are being flooded by consumer complaints seeking review of unbelievable electricity bills post-lockdown. Not only residential but commercial and industrial consumers have also been charged heavily even when their premises were closed, and machinery was not in operation for most of the time during the billing period.
In response to increasing public anger, Discoms have clarified that they have issued monthly bills during lockdown based on consumer’s average units’ consumption and have balanced it later when the actual meter reading is noted down in June. This is common and legally valid practise done by Discoms for the cases wherein meter reading is not possible for any consumer for a specified billing period. However, various allegations are being made on Discoms. I have been receiving forwarded hate-messages against the companies on social media apps (especially Whatsapp). I have also read Discoms response to allegations. Initially, I thought the anger will damp down over time, but it didn’t happen!
Considering the depth of the situation, I decided to look into the matter in detail and thought to post it on my blog. The purpose of this blog post is to educate people about the allegations and help them to make informed decisions. To begin with, let us first see the sequence of events that led to this situation that we are in right now;
- 24 March, 2020 – Nationwide lockdown imposed due to Chinese Coronavirus pandemic.
- 30 March, 2020 – Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) approved annual tariff revisions of all distribution utilities. (This is a procedural activity)
- 1 April, 2020 – New tariff rates are enforced throughout the state.
- 1 June 2020 – Government of Maharashtra partially uplifted the lockdown restrictions
- 1 June 2020 – MSEDCL resumed manual meter-reading in the areas other than the containment zones.
- 1 June, 2020 onwards – People started receiving exorbitant bills.
To understand the narrative of post-COVID electricity bills, I studied MERC tariff order, read MERC’s press note, MSEDCL clarification note and relevant news articles. I have also decoded the bill details provided by MSEDCL on its website, analysed my electricity bill and cross-verified the same with my friend’s bills! It should be noted that my opinions are based on the analysis done on the MSEDCL residential consumer bills only. Here are the essential headings under which I would like to place my opinion;
Allegation-1: MSEDCL has levied revised tariff charges on the units consumed before 31 March, 2020.
Short answer: MSEDCL has bifurcated unit consumption and levied charges as per the norms.
Explanation: As can be seen in the bill details on the website provided by MSEDCL (click here to visit the page), the company has interpolated unit consumption data by considering previous actual reading date (before lockdown) with the most-recent reading date. Per-day unit consumption is then calculated to find out the unit consumption on and before 31 March (on which old tariff rates are applicable) and unit consumption after 31 March (on which revised tariff rates are applicable). Energy charges and wheeling charges are calculated as per the applicable tariff (old or revised) and summed up to generate final bill amount. I have not seen any discrepancy in the calculation for the bills that I have cross verified! The fixed charges, fuel adjustment cost (wherever applicable) and electricity duty (16%) are calculated as per the norms.
Hence, it can be said that MSEDCL has levied appropriate tariff charges on total unit consumption.
Allegation-2: While calculating the post-lockdown bill, MSEDCL has deducted monetary value from previous bills instead of deducting units.
Short answer: The net impact of deducting monetary value or deducting units is the same. Hence, following either of the approach results in the same bill amount.
Explanation: It is being alleged that post-lockdown, MSEDCL has deducted the partial monetary value of the previous bill while calculating net bill amount. It is found that only variable costs (energy charges, wheeling charges, fuel adjustment cost and associated electricity duty) are deducted while calculating net bill amount. Fixed charges are not deducted (and should not be deducted). The units consumed on or before 31 March, as well as those consumed after 31 March, produce same monetary value when calculated with or without considering it in the post-lockdown bill.
However, this issue will be pertinent if the actual units consumed in March or April are way higher than that of May. Since there is no way of verifying it at this moment (as the consumption is divided equally over the number of days), it is not possible to hold a conversation on this issue anymore.
Allegation-3: MSEDCL has considered relatively low average units’ consumption during the lockdown period
Short answer: MSEDCL has considered an average of three months in winter to compensate the electricity consumption in summer which has resulted in reasonably low average units consumption
Explanation: MSEDCL has considered an average of previous three months (in most of the cases; December, January and February) to compensate the usage during the lockdown period. It is a well-proven fact that in India, the average consumption in summer months is higher than that of winter months. I have prepared a graph from 12 consumers monthly consumption data from March 2019 to February 2020. Following is the chart;
The graph clearly shows that electricity consumption is considerably higher in summer than that of winter. The ‘numbers’ mentioned in the chart cannot be used to justify the argument since the sample size is not adequate to do so. However, the very reason I plotted this graph is to prove that average unit consumption during the lockdown period would have been more if MSEDCL had considered ‘summer months’ while calculating averages. This would have reduced the difference in the bill amounts and suppressed the price shocks that consumers are experiencing right now!
Claim-1: MSEDCL facilitated online meter reading submission for its consumer during the lockdown
Short answer: The online meter reading submission facility was ‘disabled’ till the last week of May.
Explanation: MSEDCL has claimed to facilitate online-meter reading submission for its consumers. I have been using the MSEDCL app for a long time. The meter reading submission option (at least for me) was always disabled for my account. I have updated my contact details with the system years ago. I never received SMS or email from MSEDCL asking to submit online meter reading before lockdown. During the lockdown, the option was not available till the last week of May (this is when meter reading for April’s consumption took place in my locality). I have occasionally checked the availability of feature throughout the lockdown period.
I had tweeted my concern to MSEDCL’s official twitter handle on 3rd May. In reply, I was told to submit the reading through the website, but the website link was disabled too! The relevant tweet is embedded below. You can refer the screenshot of the embedded tweet and company’s response in case the original tweet from the twitter goes missing!
The facility is not available. kindly enable it for all pic.twitter.com/Fn0bl9rfF1
— Pratik Joshi (@Pratik_YoursPJ) May 3, 2020
MSEDCL, in its note has mentioned that only 3.65 Lakh out of 2.3 crore consumers have self-submitted their meter reading. This contributes to just 1.5% of total consumers. It is surprising to see such a low response despite having good digital infrastructure in the state. This shows that there lies some issue with the online submission of meter reading. (lack of promotion?) Hence, I would not buy MSEDCL’s claim that they have facilitated consumers with online meter reading submission facility DURING lockdown. It was the May end when the facility was widely publicized!
Claim-2: MSEDCL has facilitated EMI option for the bill payment to reduce the financial burden on consumers
Short answer: No. Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) has ordered all Discoms to do so!
Explanation: MERC, state regulatory commission for electricity-related affairs recognized public unrest over the inflated bills and released a press note on 29 June, 2020. In its note, MERC has directed Discoms to implement the following measures;
- Set up dedicated help-desk at the subdivision or division level and respond to consumer grievances within a day.
- A consumer should be allowed to pay the dues in 3 monthly instalments if his/her post-lockdown bill amount is double than that of the average bill amount for March to May.
- The electricity service shall not be discontinued on the basis of pending bill amount dues (including EMI facility)
Hence, it is not the Discoms who initiated the EMI facility to consumers. They are bound to implement it as per the MERC directions.
!! !! FUN FACT !! !!
Do you know that around 6 lakhs 11 thousand MSEDCL consumers received their monthly bills based on actual meter reading during a lockdown?
MSEDCL has installed AMR-enabled meters on these consumer’s premises. AMR stands for ‘Automated Meter Reading’. Such meters have unidirectional communication facility with Discom offices. The meter reading is automatically sent to Discoms to avoid manual reading and get the correct bill (i.e. exactly for a month) Those who have AMR-enabled meters received their monthly bills on actual consumption data even during the lockdown and hence got saved from the price shocks.
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this blog post was to educate consumers about the allegations that are being made on Discoms and about the claims that Discoms have made. I hope that this blog-post will also help a consumer to make informed decisions.
I encourage you to check your meter reading number in the bill with that of the actual meter. If you see any discrepancy in it, then contact your nearest Discom office and get your corrected bill.
In addition to this, I request everyone to educate yourself about the billing structure of Discoms. It is required soon as you may receive even higher bills in the coming months. It is due to FAC charges (which are not levied on April to June bills). Let me know if you want me to write about it. Do like YoursPJ’s Facebook page and follow me on Twitter!