The hike in electricity tariff has revived the demand from several domestic consumers for reverting to the monthly billing cycle from the existing bi-monthly one.
According to this section of consumers, the slab of 501 units and above in two months can very easily be touched, given the present lifestyle and use of more electrical appliances. Under the bi-monthly system, one has to shell more at a given point of time as there is no government subsidy for this sub-category of domestic consumers.
B. Sadagopan, co-ordinator, Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre, says that when the now-defunct Tamil Nadu Electricity Board launched the bi-monthly billing cycle in 1984, the situation was different.
“Previously, an assessor had to calculate the electricity charges manually which would be time-consuming. After the introduction of hand-held machines, his or her job has become easier and the assessor would be able to cover more consumers per day.”
R. Thangathurai, a keen observer of the State electricity sector, says many of those who come under the sub-category of 501 units and above belong to the middle class and they have modest resources. In months such as June when the people will have other commitments, including the payment of school or college fees for their wards, the power bill can put them under immense stress. If the monthly billing cycle is revived, this will definitely be a huge relief to them.
M. Ashraful, a resident of Tondiarpet, citing the example of the monthly billing by the telephone companies, wants the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) to follow suit.
An official of the TANGEDCO explains operational difficulties in changing the billing cycle back to the old system.
Under the present bi-monthly billing system, 80 lakh domestic consumers every month remit their dues through 2,700 collection centres.
If the monthly cycle is reverted to, a scenario might emerge in which the entire 1.6 crore consumers would ‘swarm' the collection centres every month and the presence of long serpentine queues would become a common feature in every centre.
Eventually, the domestic consumers would have to undergo hardship every month.
The existing work norms for assessors also have to be taken into account. The old billing system would also result in recruiting 8,000 persons additionally for the post of assessors. This would result in doubling the establishment cost, which would be in the order of Rs. 24 crore to Rs. 30 crore.
Notwithstanding this reply, the domestic consumers want the authorities to be proactive at least in implementing consumer-friendly measures, which, by and large, remain on paper. They recall that the measures such as self-assessment and ATM-like kiosks have not taken off. No adequate publicity has been provided by the Corporation to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission's amendment in September last to the Electricity Supply Code, by allowing those consumers who opt for depositing electricity charges in advance. Such persons would be entitled to interest at the normal bank rate, they say, citing the Commission's decision.
The TANGEDCO official says that his organisation has plans to make payment easier. He also concedes that online payment of power bills has not received much support. It is used by only two to three per cent of the consumers. The Corporation's plan is to increase it to 25 per cent in a few months, for which it will launch an aggressive drive soon. It is a matter of time that State Bank of India will be roped in, the official hopes.