THE so-called independent inquiry committee, formed by the power ministry to probe charges of excessive billing by distribution companies, K-Electric included, in July-August last year, has absolved these entities of any “deliberate and mala fide” intent in issuing inflated bills to millions of middle-class households in the country. The committee has blamed the power sector regulator, Nepra, for acting prematurely and accusing the companies of overcharging their customers in violation of the Nepra Act. The committee released its findings days after Nepra let the distribution firms off the hook, cautioning them to compensate consumers who had been affected within the next one month, instead of punishing them for an illegal act that caused financial problems for tens of thousands of people.

Though the committee admitted that overbilling was common and had been continuing for a very long time, it sought to justify this malpractice by blaming it on weather conditions, organisational and administrative weaknesses, and the shortage of meter-reading staff, transportation and up-to-date mobile handsets. It said Nepra had ignored these factors, while giving its ruling on the issue recently. On top of that, it pointed fingers at a retrospective increase in power prices in July, which had resulted in a sudden spike in consumers’ electricity bills “heavily encumbering the common man’s capacity to pay”. Even if the committee’s defence of distribution companies is accepted, there is no justification to let them perpetuate this old practice of showing higher recoveries at the expense of the unsuspecting consumers. It is also one way of hiding power theft by the powerful, and shifting the burden onto honest consumers. When seen in totality, the additional amount taken by companies last summer from their customers may be just a fraction of their total billing, but when seen from the perspective of individual consumers, the extra burden of even a few thousand rupees can be unbearable for most families.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2024

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