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LAHORE, Nov 24: Despite the court declaring “levy and demand for fuel adjustment charges as arrears with retrospective effect unconstitutional,” the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) has started levying the charges in the current month’s bills.

In the bills for November, Lesco has included fuel adjustment charges for April at a rate of Rs1.98 per unit, which makes “arrears with retrospective effect, precisely what the court had stopped the distribution companies from doing.”

The official excuse for placing charges in the bills is, “All distribution companies have gone into appeal against the decision of the Islamabad High Court. Hence, they can levy these charges meanwhile.”

The lawyers, however, dispute the claim, saying the “IHC, in its decision on October 24 declared these charges unconstitutional, besides being against the principles of natural justice and dictum laid down by the superior courts of the country.”

“It is a clear order and cannot be treated as being reversed simply by going into appeal against it,” says Azhar Kazmi. Until and unless the court itself reverses the decision or any superior court issues stay orders, the companies may attract contempt of court proceedings for levying the charges. Apparently, levying these charges and that too “as arrears and with retrospective effect” not only violate the court orders but also the law points on which the orders are based, Mr Kazmi says.

Explaining further, he said had Lesco placed current month’s fuel adjustment charges in the bills, it still could have used the excuse that the court did not declare the charges for the month illegal, but only their recovery as “arrears and with retrospective effect.” Thus it can make them part of the bill. But trying to recover charges for the month of April in the November’s bill was a risky proposition, which could be treated as an insult to the court and law, he concluded.

The company insiders say everyone in Lesco knows it was “illegal and they can be held for being contemptuous to the court and law and it pleaded its case with water and power ministry on the same lines. But the ministry is not listening.”

“The current secretary ordered the company to include the fuel price adjustment charges in November bills and leave the ministry to the court,” says a Lesco official. The ministry is under immense economic and political pressure to deal with loadshedding, but it does not have the money to do so. Thus, they decided to include those charges even at the risk of contempt proceedings. The company, on its part, kept resisting the inclusion till very late in the month. That is why the charges are included in the sixth badge of the bills. First five badges went out without these charges, but then everyone was forced into including them in the sixth badge onwards. The company is still “correcting the bill of those who bring them back to its offices by removing those charges,” he said.

Lesco customer service director Arshad Rafique defended the inclusion, saying, “All distribution companies and the ministry have gone into appeal against the orders and hoping a favoruable response from the court. That is why they (charges) have been included in the bill.”