Can an electricity supply company disconnect power supply or threaten to do so under the claim that a consumer has committed power theft without producing any proof?

The Dakshina Kannada District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum has ruled that it cannot do so. Besides producing proof of theft, if any, it should give an opportunity to the consumer to present his case, the forum has said.

While dealing with two separate cases, the forum has asked the Puttur division of Mangalore Electricity Supply Company (Mescom) to refund the back-billing charges of Rs. 21,820 to its consumers — one from Uppinangady and another from Panaje in Puttur taluk.

The forum found that Mescom, which had alleged that the two consumers had indulged in power theft, could not place material evidence to prove its stand.

While Mohammad Beary of Irde Beedu of Panaje was slapped a bill of Rs. 16,861 in October 2009 as against his normal monthly bill of Rs. 99 to Rs. 130, Nasrathulla Islam, Jumma Masjid, Uppinangady, was asked to pay Rs. 4,959 in September last even though his monthly average bill was around Rs. 1,000. The two consumers paid the bill as Mescom officials had either disconnected or threatened to disconnect their power supply. The two were not given any opportunity to file their objections before disconnecting the power supply.

The forum, headed by Asha K. Shetty, said, it was “surprised” that Mescom had failed to adhere to the rulebook. “In order to make out a case of theft of energy/electricity power by a consumer, the decision-making authority is expected to hold a proper enquiry affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing to the consumer against whom grave charges are made.”

It pointed out that the Electricity Supply and Distribution Code 29.04 required the officials to serve a provisional bill with 15 days' notice to file objections and after considering the objections, intimate the consumer to make the payment within 30 days. On the other hand, Code 42.06 on dishonest abstraction/use/consumption of electricity or interference with the metering equipment or accessories insists that “The mahazar (spot inspection report) shall be drawn in the presence of the consumer or his representative, along with two other witnesses, who shall sign the mahazar report. One copy of such report shall be handed over under acknowledgement of the consumer or his representative.

The forum said MESCOM should have, “established that the consumer committed theft of power before demanding any payment. A unilateral decision based on surmise without being subject to the test of an objection from the consumer would hardly satisfy the requirements of fair play and causes injustice.”

The forum has declared the bills as null and void and asked Mescom to refund the amount with interest at 12 per cent a year from the date of billing or adjust it to future bills. It has asked Mescom to pay litigation cost of Rs.1,000 to each consumer.

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