CURRENTLY, the government is under immense pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to improve recoveries from the power sector to lessen the burden of circular debt. The Ministry of Energy has been continuously pursuing the distribution companies (Discos), particularly those in Punjab, to raise the recovery level well beyond the 100 per cent mark. However, one major issue is being ignored totally which is not justifiable; the rampant overbilling to industrial, tube well, commercial and bulk consumers, particularly by Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco), Gujranwala Electric Power Company (Gepco) and Multan Electric Power Company (Mepco).
Unfortunately, the ministry is completely and criminally silent over the excess billing done by these companies, and the consumers are being harassed, rather tortured, by rogue field officers who have billed up to 500,000 units to many tube wells of just 10HP.
Small and medium industries (batch 46) are being charged 10,000 to 90,000 extra units, and then no bill correction is made even if the customer runs from one office to another. Even the customer complaint redressal forums, like the Federal Ombudsman, the Provincial Office of Inspection (POI) and the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), have not been successful in curbing these practices.
What to talk of others, even high-end real estate tycoons have not been successful in getting their bills corrected worth millions of units despite all the evidence and regulatory directives in their favour. In one of the Discos, about eight powerful sub-divisional officers (SDOs) were even removed from service on account of overbilling and other such charges, but they were reinstated to their positions over the reported recommendations of the powerful persons in the Ministry of Energy.
The ministry can easily get the billing data of these customer groups from the Power Information Technology Company (PITC), where the billing is exorbitantly above the Nepra standard load factors. The government should initiate legislation to declare overbilling a major offence punishable under CrPC with three years of imprisonment.
Such legislation was under active consi- deration in 2017-18, but then things changed on the political front and the matter died a silent death.
In the present situation, no visible step is taken to curb the menace of overbilling, and that is why no major improvement in recovery is visible despite daily meetings of the ministry with Disco chiefs. The prevailing corrupt practices of Disco field officers and the increasing power tariffs have put a heavy burden on the people.
But there seems neither any will nor any action on the part of the govern-ment to control the menace of over-billing for which it will have to pay a heavy cost in the shape of loss of public support. Saner elements in the govern-ment should take a serious note of this.
Asghar Ali Anjum
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2023
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.