In a setback to consumers, the Supreme Court has ruled that a State Electricity Regulatory Commission is not empowered to adjudicate individual disputes between a consumer and private power distribution companies (distcoms).
A Bench comprising Justices AK Mathur and Markandeya Katju said a consumer should approach the distcom's in-built grievance redressal cell to settle disputes. If the consumer still remains dissatisfied, he is free to approach an ombudsman appointed as per the guidelines of the Regulatory Commission.
The Bench specified the Commission's role was limited to monitoring the functioning of a distcom. It could also settle a dispute between a distcom and a generating company. However, under section 86 (f) of the Indian Electricty Act, 2003 the Commission is not entitled to hear private complaints.
The ruling came on two different appeals filed by the Maharashtra State Electricity Regulatory Commission (MSERC) and the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL).
The court agreed with private distcoms of Maharastra that since all had in-house forums to redress the complaints of consumers, MSERC couldn't have entertained individual consumer complaints.
In 2006, MSERC had passed a "sweeping" order directing Maharashtra's three distcoms to refund the money they had collected from consumers through issuing supplementary bills. These bills were issued to more than a crore consumers across the State between June 2003 and January 19, 2006.
On receiving several complaints, MSERC passed an order directing the distcoms to refund the money, amounting to about Rs 100 crore.