While filing a complaint, consumers must establish the electricity department’s deficiency in service
Services offered by the electricity department come within the purview of the consumer fora. For instance, in a revision petition that came up before the National Commission, the complainant’s plea was that despite the surrender of his connection, his security deposit was not refunded and that the Electricity Board kept raising demands. Earlier, the State Commission had directed the department to refund the money after deducting dues, if any. Without refunding amounts due to the complainant, fresh demand was raised by the Board. Alleging deficiency in service, the complainant filed a fresh complaint. The Electricity Board filed an appeal, which was dismissed with costs of Rs. 5,000 by the State Commission. National Commission upheld the order.
Similarly, in a case of electrocution, where accidental death occurred due to improper insulation of live wire, the Electricity Board was held responsible as it was required to ensure that such installations were properly and securely maintained. The State Commission awarded compensation, which was upheld by the National Commission.
However, if the deficiency in service or unfair / restrictive trade practice or hazardous services cannot not be proved, then, such complaints will not be maintainable before the consumer fora. Recently, in the case of UP Power Corporation Ltd & Ors vs. Anis Ahmad, the Supreme Court held that Consumer Courts cannot entertain complaints against power bills assessed under the Electricity Act, 2003 unless deficiency in service or unfair trade practice was established. Anis Ahmad and others had filed complaints before the district forum challenging the assessed bill raised by the Power Corporation for electricity theft. The Power Corporation disputed the maintainability of the complaints before the consumer fora. The district forum, the UP State Commission and the National Commission held them to be maintainable. But the Apex Court observed that Ahmad and others, who had industrial connections meant for commercial purpose would not fit the definition of ‘consumer’ as delineated under the CP Act and also, none of them had alleged any deficiency in service or unfair trade practice but had only opposed the order of assessment with regard to unauthorised use of electricity. The Court further stated that since the assessing officer was a public servant and his assessment was a quasi-judicial decision, any issue regarding the assessment would not constitute a consumer dispute.
The Supreme Court said that in case of inconsistency between the Electricity Act and the Consumer Protection Act, the provisions of latter would prevail, but, ipso facto, it will not vest the consumer forum with the power to redress any dispute with regard to matters not falling within the meaning of ‘service’ or ‘complaint’ as defined under the CP Act.
(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or firstname.lastname@example.org)