How a profit-hungry APDCL is causing grief to consumers
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After days of public uproar across Assam, the State electricity management came out with several clarifications.

First, it has asserted that the conversion of metering equipment (from postpaid to prepaid) does not increase the energy loads for a consumer. Second, issues like higher charges against electricity consumption by a household would be resolved within a few weeks. Third, any complaint from the consumers would be entertained promptly.

Household consumers in various localities recently came to the streets drawing the attention of Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL), a division of the State-run electricity board, about their unusually high electricity bills after shifting to the prepaid smart billing meters. The hike was significant (sometimes 50%) and lately, a forum of graduate engineers also urged APDCL to clarify its stand over public grievances.

ā€œThe process of changing conventional electro-mechanical meters (with a rotating aluminium disc) to electronic (digital/smart) meters with an LCD or LED display must not record more energy consumption (to increase the monthly bills) at any cost,ā€ asserted All Assam Engineerā€™s Association (AAEA), asking the APDCL management to simplify the guidelines for household consumers and make people aware of those rules.

Now the APDCL authority has revealed that the installed smart prepaid smart meters don’t lead to an increase in electricity bills. The company through its official social media account stated, ā€œIn case of smart prepaid meters, no extra charge is levied and existing tariff rates are applicable. However, to allay the concern of the consumers, we have made provision to install check meters alongside the smart meter to compare consumption of both meters.ā€

Insisting that the smart meters provide consumers with an insight into their daily consumption, which should help them use electricity judiciously as per their needs. The consumers can now monitor their daily electricity consumption by installing the mobile app ā€˜myBijuleeā€™ and if necessary, they can send queries or complaints through the app, its website (www.apdcl.org) or even call at helpline number 1912.

State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also responded to the public grievances and directed the APDCL to set up a control room for public complaints.

The smart prepayment meter, which has been used by several countries across the world, functions under a computer program with international standards. It helps the management to have accurate and reliable information for managing the electricity consumption and demands in its territory. The new technology also helps reduce comprehensive energy loss. It works like a prepaid cell phone connection or a DTH (for viewing television channels), where the consumers actually buy their required energy units in advance and once the balance amount turns zero, the power supply gets automatically cut off.

ā€œThe cost of a prepaid electricity meter may be higher than the conventional one, but the APDCL should not put burdens on consumers for the conversion. APDCL is a profit-making enterprise of the government and hence it should consider supplying electricity to the poor families in remote areas with some concessions,ā€ said AAEA president Kailash Sarma, adding that the household consumers should use more LED bulbs and be careful while operating heavy energy appliances like electric irons, dyers, heaters, induction cookers, micro-ovens, air conditioners etc.

Mentionable is that India is the third largest producer of electricity in the world mostly depending on fossil fuels (coal and gas). The government is now looking aggressively for alternate (renewable) energy sources to feed the billion-plus nation. The country has witnessed a visible increase in per capita electricity consumption in recent years. Notably, the electricity tariff in India remains moderate even though higher than that of Iran, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Egypt, Burma, Cuba, Ghana, Laos, Argentina, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Russia (in ascending order).

India is followed by Georgia, UAE, Vietnam, China, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Turkey, Belarus, South Korea, Ecuador, Taiwan, Indonesia, Botswana, Tanzania, Mexico, Jordan, Hungary, Morocco, Canada, Thailand, Mozambique, Mauritius, Norway, Bulgaria, Malta, Iceland, Maldives, Cambodia, Colombia, South Africa, Uganda, Costa Rica, Israel, Kenya, Brazil, Senegal, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Romania, USA, Philippines, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Slovakia, France, Honduras, Switzerland, Rwanda, Peru, Australia, Singapore, Uruguay, Japan, Barbados, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Latvia, Jamaica, Sweden, Spain, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Denmark (at the top) with higher energy prices.

Even though the APDCL terms the prepaid method of collecting fees against the energy consumed in a household as very simple, it has not spared the consumers from paying the monthly fixed charges. It argues that the charge is necessary to keep the electricity network connection comprising several poles with wires and transformers across the State and the essential services in place. So even if a consumer does not use a single unit of electricity for months, he/she has to pay the monthly fixed charge.

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Now the question that arises here is if the APDCL authority enjoys the power to restrict oneā€™s electricity supply after non-payment of bills immediately, why not the consumer get the liberty to use the supply as and when needed? Should not it be irrational if the matter of essential household power connection in India is considered? Why doesn’t the authority evolve a policy to reduce the fixed charge significantly for the household, which installs solar energy units for their daily consumption of energy? After all, the power distribution company should not discourage those families in their mission to adopt green energy!

The writer is a professional journalist based in Guwahati with academic education in engineering. Views are personal

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