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LAHORE: Inordinate delay in replacement of defective meters is costing the consumers of power distribution companies (Discos) heavily, as they are forced to pay unrealistic average bills on a monthly basis.

At present about 500,000 applications for the replacement of defective meters and more or less the same number of new electricity connection applications are pending with all Discos. Since the number of consumers in all Discos is over 12 million, every month the number of such applicants goes up.

Consumers term the replacement of defective meters a [most] difficult job and state that the issue is costing them heavily.

Discos face backlog of defective meters’ replacement

“My monthly bill in summer never exceeded Rs5,000 and Rs2,000 in winter. A couple of months ago, the meter suddenly turned defective and I requested in writing to the respective Lesco office to replace it. But the officials didn’t do it and started sending unrealistic average bills of Rs20,000 or so each month,” said a consumer from Johar Town.

“Finally, I approached one of the senior officials concerned who helped me get the meter replaced quickly. But after replacement of the defective meter with a new one, I received a monthly bill of over Rs7,000 despite the fact that the image of the meter on the bill reflected a zero reading,” he added.

Number of defective meters and their timely replacement is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that is evaluated by the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) time to time in high-level meetings among other KPIs such as mobile meter reading and its implementation status, registration of consumers’ mobile phone numbers, and billing schedule and delay.

According to another consumer, non-replacement of his defective meter has made him panicky all the time.

“In July last year, my meter turned defective after it burnt during rain. I applied for the replacement immediately and finally it was changed about eight days ago. In the meanwhile, I was served average bills that even crossed Rs30,000 once,” he said.

“I paid some of the [average] bills, I couldn’t pay the [most unrealistic] bills for a couple of months. And now the accumulative amount of total bills has reached to around Rs80,000. Some days ago, a lineman visited my house and tried to cut the connection and remove the meter, but he left after I requested him to pay next month. And now I am trying to get the bills corrected or pay the total through instalments,” he explained.

“This issue has really made me confused and panicky,” the consumer, a resident of Allama Iqbal Town, added.

The authorities concerned must take notice of the situation, he said.

Talking to Dawn, an insider said serving average bills with unrealistic amount on account of defective meters or sending high-amount bills to consumers other than those facing defective meter replacement was a tactic to show good recovery and reduced line losses.

“What the corrupt officials do? They randomly serve inflated bills. And suppose, if they serve such bills to 1,000 consumers, all will not visit the area offices to lodge complaint. So those visiting the offices and contesting such bills are entertained by the officials and others raising no voice are accordingly charged with heavy bills,” an official source told this reporter.

“And finally the excess bills/amounts paid by such consumers are adjusted to cover the line losses. It is a routine practice in all distribution companies,” he added.

However, according to another official, the situation is improving gradually. In order to do away with such complaints, the Discos have been asked to replace the defective meter with new one within a period of one month.

“The main issue is the shortage of meters, as the manufacturers cannot provide a huge number of meters to Discos. And in a meeting held on Dec 22, the Discos’ chief executive officers (CEOs) had also told Federal Minister (Power Division) Awais Leghari about the issue stating that they needed about one million meters every month to clear the backlog and disposal of future applications,” the official requesting anonymity said.

He claimed that the performance of linemen, bill distributors, meter readers, line superintendents, SDOs etc was being monitored these days in view of the KPIs. “And the officials found involved in such practices, are being punished sternly.”

He said the law enforcement agencies must render full cooperation to the field officials in stopping power theft so as to reduce line losses.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2018