MSEDCL cannot claim Rs 2.22 crore from College of Engineering, Pune after HC strikes down appeal
In a reprieve for the College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP), the Bombay high court has upheld the Electricity Ombudsman’s order striking down a demand of Rs.2.22 crore from the leading government engineering college.
Justice Ujjal Bhuyan on Friday dismissed a petition filed by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) challenging the ombudsman’s order.
After the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) issued a tariff order in August 2012, MSEDCL changed tariff category of CoEP’s hostel to HT-IX (non-express) through an order issued on September 5, 2012.
During 2015-16, CAG found mistakes in the billing of a certain category of MSEDCL consumers, after which the electricity utility conducted inspections, and in March 2018, it issued a supplementary bill to CoEP demanding an additional amount of about Rs. 2.22 crore. MSEDCL said the college hostel was wrongly categorised as a low tariff HT-IX consumer, and threatened to disconnect electricity supply to 11 hostel buildings if the college failed to pay the bill in due time.
CoEP initially took the matter to the consumer forum and later to the Electricity Ombudsman in Mumbai. On April 2, 2019, the ombudsman struck down MSEDCL’s supplementary demand.
MSEDCL then approached the high Court to challenge the ombudsman’s order on various grounds. The high Court on Friday dismissed the petition and upheld the ombudsman’s order.
The high court noted that Section 56 (2) of the Electricity Act prohibits recovery of any sum from a consumer after a period of two years from the date when the sum became first due. Therefore, it was not open to the electricity supplier to present a differential bill for the period from February 2012 by sending demand notice for the first time in March 2018.
Besides, the judge said the HT-IX tariff category is applicable to educational institutions and sports clubs, gymnasiums and swimming pools attached to such institutions, provided they are situated in the same premises and exclusively meant for the students.
“If sports club, gymnasium, swimming pool, etc. attached to such institution and situated in the same premises exclusively meant for the students are covered by the said tariff category, there is no reason to exclude the hostel where the students reside from the ambit of the expression educational institution,” said Bhuyan. “Therefore, on this count also raising of the supplementary bill is highly questionable,” the judge added.
He said the ombudsman correctly held MSEDCL was not entitled to issue any differential bill for any period before February 2018, when the tariff category of hostels was last changed. In this regard, the ombudsman had relied on the MERC order of February 2003 directing that there shall be no retrospective recovery of arrears on the basis of any abrupt reclassification of consumers, and in such cases, the billing should be prospective as those cannot be construed as cases of escaped billing.