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Consumers can’t be forced to pay disputed bills: court

delhi Updated: Sep 13, 2008 01:33 IST
Satya Prakash

Power supply companies cannot arbitrarily direct consumers to pay huge disputed bills and threaten them with prosecution and disconnection in case of non-payment, the national consumer court has ruled.

"The Electricity Act, 2003 nowhere empowers the officers concerned (of power supply company) to adopt such an arbitrary procedure…the Act nowhere empowers the officers of the electricity company to act according to their whims and harass the consumers at large," the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said.

The ruling came from a bench headed by Chairman Justice M.B. Shah, which dismissed a batch of petitions filed by Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Ltd and Uttari Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Ltd challenging the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission's decisions in favour of consumers.

"From the findings of facts recorded by the State Commission and the District Forum, it is apparent that the orders passed by the officers of the electricity company are arbitrary, unjustified and de hors of statutory provisions.

"It is high time that the officers concerned should be given training or should be made aware of the powers under the Act so that such misuse may not be there in future. In any case, if there is unauthorised misuse of electricity, the same can be dealt with in accordance with law," the National Commission said.

In the case of alleged unauthorised use of electricity, the procedure prescribed under Section 126 of the Act was required to be followed by the power supply companies, and not the one under Section 152 that was applicable in electricity theft cases and provided for compounding of offences on payment, it said.

In such cases, Section 126 provides for provisional assessment of electricity bill that will be served on the consumer through a notice and he will be given opportunity to file objections before the assessing officer, who shall pass an assessment order only after hearing him.

The consumer may accept it and deposit the amount within seven days or else he may challenge the assessment order under Section 127 of the Act by filing an appeal within 30 days, the apex consumer court said.

All these cases arose out of alleged unauthorised use of electricity. Without issuing any notice under Section 126 and passing any provisional assessment order the companies straightway issued orders under Section 152, directing the consumer to pay the disputed bills for compounding of offences.