Two or More Elec­tric­ity Sup­pli­ers in Town?

You have the right to choose the bet­ter one

Consumer Voice - - Legal Matters - Dr Prem Lata Con­sumer Awak­en­ing, For­mer Mem­ber, CDRF-Delhi

Ever won­dered how long have you had an elec­tric­ity con­nec­tion? Well, in most cases, you do not even know. Most likely, ever since you have been con­scious, you have known elec­tric­ity, been part of dis­cus­sions crib­bing about the ris­ing tar­iffs, in­flated bills, load shed­ding and so on, and how those new dig­i­tal me­ters bill you even for the lit­tle red in­di­ca­tors on switches. So, what else then?

The con­ver­sa­tions con­tinue to hap­pen; ‘power’ has be­come a po­lit­i­cal agenda; and many of you for­get that you are the ‘con­sumer’ of power com­pa­nies and have ev­ery right to ques­tion them for in­ad­e­quate ser­vices. Not the least of your rights is to be able to move to a bet­ter ser­vice provider in your area if there is an op­tion. Yes, just like you can port your mo­bile num­ber to an­other ser­vice provider af­ter clear­ing all dues, you can change your elec­tric­ity provider too.

In the re­cent past, there have been cases wherein power com­pa­nies have ob­jected to such switch­ing of ser­vice providers. How­ever, the high­est courts of the coun­try have stood by the con­sumers, re­buffed the mo­nop­o­lis­tic prac­tices of some power com­pa­nies, mak­ing way for con­sumers to choose what they be­lieve is bet­ter for them.

A Lo­cal Bat­tle­ground

In a land­mark judge­ment on 8 May 2014, the Supreme Court (SC) up­held the rights of re­tail elec­tric­ity con­sumers al­low­ing them to choose the elec­tric­ity sup­plier on the ba­sis of their ser­vice qual­ity and price.

The SC’s con­sumer-favoured judge­ment came in the case of Bri­han­mum­bai Elec­tric Sup­ply & Trans­port Un­der­tak­ing (BEST) ver­sus Ma­ha­rash­tra Elec­tric­ity Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (MERC) wherein BEST had chal­lenged the MERC de­ci­sion to al­low a re­tail con­sumer to switch from BEST ser­vices to Tata Power.

The case be­gan when Guru Prasad Shetty, a restau­rant owner, re­al­ized that BEST, which was his elec­tric­ity provider, was charg­ing him al­most dou­ble the rate of Tata Power. He de­cided to switch ser­vice provider and ap­plied for a no-ob­jec­tion cer­tifi­cate (NOC) from BEST. BEST re­fused to give the NOC con­tend­ing that they were a ‘lo­cal author­ity’ un­der the Elec­tric­ity Act and hence no­body else could sup­ply elec­tric­ity to re­tail cus­tomers in their area.

Guru Prasad ap­proached Ma­ha­rash­tra Elec­tric­ity Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion. The Com­mis­sion stood by the con­sumer and di­rected BEST to is­sue an NOC to fa­cil­i­tate the switch. MERC also di­rected Tata Power Com­pany (TPC) to cre­ate their own in­fra­struc­ture in the area to pro­vide elec­tric­ity to ag­grieved con­sumers.

BEST, how­ever, re­fused to is­sue the NOC and also chal­lenged the author­ity given to Tata Power at var­i­ous lev­els in­clud­ing the Ap­pel­late Tri­bunal for Elec­tric­ity and the Supreme Court.

The Ap­pel­late Tri­bunal took the con­sumers’ side and up­held the or­der of the MERC. BEST went to the Supreme Court with the fol­low­ing points:

a) The Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion did not have ju­ris­dic­tion to en­ter­tain a dis­pute be­tween the con­sumer and a dis­tri­bu­tion li­censee.

(b) Tata Power Com­pany was not a deemed dis­tri­bu­tion li­censee for the area in ques­tion and there­fore was not en­ti­tled to give elec­tric­ity con­nec­tions to con­sumers in the area.

c) TPC could not ex­tend its net­work in a BEST area of sup­ply, with­out BEST’s con­sent and agree­ment.

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