The Kerala electricity board delivered a shock when it started sending bills late last month for the power consumed during the lockdown. The bills, which many found grossly disproportionate to the normal consumption pattern, sent the people knocking at the doors of the government and judiciary, begging for relief from this additional financial burden on their already strained resources. Even homes and shops that remained shut during the lockdown were served huge bills. This is primarily because of two reasons.
One, no meter reading was done during the lockdown. Hence, the board relied on the average consumption during the previous six months. That explains how even places with almost zero consumption received bills for power they didn’t use. Two, the bill cycle period was extended. This automatically increased the total consumption for the last bill cycle, denying many consumers the benefit of slab-based power tariff.
The board received more than 1.25 lakh complaints of mistakes in billing in the last couple of weeks. That the calculations were unscientific is obvious now, but the opposition parties have also alleged serious discrepancies and attempts to make money out of the crisis. Under pressure, the government on Thursday announced a slew of concessions for domestic consumers. The bills can be paid in five instalments, it said. CM Pinarayi Vijayan promised power supply will not be disconnected even if consumers default on payments.
There’s no denial that all have to pay for the power they consume. The board is entitled to be paid for the power it supplies as per the fixed tariff. Nothing more, nothing less. Consumers cannot be made to pay for calculation errors on the part of the board and slab change on account of the extended bill cycle. The government has rightly stepped in to extend relief to domestic consumers and make necessary course correction. But it cannot ignore businesses and industries. It also remains to be seen whether these concessions really benefit the troubled consumers. If not, the government may have to intervene again to ensure people aren’t unnecessarily burdened during these difficult times.