Govt mulls eliminating flawed meter reading system

Published July 10, 2024
Electricity users have accused meter readers of overbilling.—Dawn/file
Electricity users have accused meter readers of overbilling.—Dawn/file

LAHORE: Amid increasing consumer frustration, the government is seriously considering eliminating the flawed pro rata system, which removes electricity consumers from the protected category or pushes them into the next slab despite their actual monthly consumption remaining within the category.

“The quarters concerned (Power Division and others) have started reviewing the meter reading system. A decision in this regard is expected in a day or two, as the process is underway these days, sources familiar with the matter told Dawn on Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the pro rata system, considering the consumer complaints about overbilling. We are reviewing this in a way that whether the system, introduced in March this year, has proved to be good or bad for the consumers,” disclosed a senior official source in the Ministry of Energy while talking to Dawn.

“If we find the system as not good, we will definitely do away with it,” the officer requesting anonymity added.

According to him, the data shows that the percentage of domestic protected consumers — electricity users of up to 200 units — was 69.38pc in April 2023 which increased to 73.14pc in April this year. Similarly, the percentage of such consumers in May 2023 was 68.84pc which increased to 73.59pc in May this year. However, it decreased to 59.15pc in June and 60.42pc last year.

“So consumers whose consumption calculated on a 28-day billing cycle in the old system has increased, pushing them out of the protected category. And whose billing was calculated on 30-day billing cycle has decreased,” he argued. “But we are not relying on this all, as we will do whatever we see in the best interest of the consumers—whether to close down this system or not,” he maintained.

It may be mentioned that under the pro rata consumption system, monthly bills are calculated based on 30-day electricity consumption. Suppose the 30-day consumption period ends on the 26th of every month and the meter reader takes the reading a few days before. In that case, the number of units consumed between 24 and 26 will be charged based on averages, assumptions, etc.

If the number of units is 180 on the 24th and the number of units mentioned in the bill is 210, it means that the difference of 30 units has been calculated based on the average of previous days’ consumption, which is called ‘pro-rata consumption’.

Talking to Dawn, an official in the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) — the country’s largest power distribution company in terms of consumers and power demand/consumption — said that only one per cent of the total domestic consumers (nearly five million) fell out of the protected category.

“It is a heatwave, so people use more electricity than last year’s June. “In April and May, the number of protected consumers increased whereas it decreased slightly (1pc) in June this year,” he maintained.

But the consumers, on the other hand, term the system a fraud to loot the consumers in a bid to cover up line losses (both commercial and technical). The ongoing widespread complaints across the country have put many consumers out of the protected category after the meter readers allegedly provided wrong data to their respective subdivisions for onward submission to the billing sections.

“What they (the meter readers) have done, I tell you. They visited us on June 26 and took a reading with a picture of the meter. But they dishonestly mentioned the reading date as June 24. When the data was sent to the system, it was billed on a 30-day billing cycle, charging the two-day units (June 25 and 26) on average or assumption. Thus, it threw many, whose reading was 175 to 180 or slightly above the date of reading, out of the protected category by mentioning/feeding the wrong reading date,” a consumer explained while talking to Dawn.

“I also made pictures, videos, etc., when our meter reader came and how he mentioned the wrong date. I also lodged complaints but to no avail,” he said, terming it a big scam that honest officers must investigate.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2024

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