Consumer Connect: 'There’s Need For A Debate On Smart Prepaid Meter Scheme,' Says Expert

Consumer Connect: 'There’s Need For A Debate On Smart Prepaid Meter Scheme,' Says Expert

The questions are answered by Adv. Shirish V. Deshpande, Chairman – Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.

FPJ News ServiceUpdated: Monday, June 17, 2024, 08:46 AM IST
article-image
Consumer Connect | FPJ

Q. There are reports of compulsory installation of smart prepaid meters by BEST, Adani, MSEDCL and Tata Power. Are consumers going to be charged for these meters and their installation? Is there going to be only a prepaid system? How can electricity companies take away rights of consumers to pay bills after consumption (postpaid)? Can this decision be challenged in a court of law?

– Madhusudan Joshi, Palghar

A. The government’s decision to introduce smart prepaid meters is going to affect every household. It’s true that there is some confusion about the meters and their installation. However, you will note that the electricity companies are not going to charge the consumers for them. Whether they will recover this cost later indirectly through tariff hike remains to be seen.

Energy Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced that these meters will, for now, be installed for industrial and commercial consumers. Thus, for the time being domestic consumers seem to have been spared the tyranny of the meters.

However, the announcement appears to be an eyewash because introduction of smart prepaid meters for consumers is a national plan.

The Ministry of Power, vide a circular dated August 16, 2018, had informed all states and distribution companies (discoms) that they would have to shift over to smart prepayment meters / prepayment meters within three years. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) amended its meter regulations in 2019 and, as per Clause 4(1) (b), all new consumer meters must be smart meters with prepayment features. Existing meters must be replaced with smart meters with prepayment feature within a time-frame.

The Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020, notified on December 31, 2020, provided that “no connection shall be given without a meter and such meter shall be the smart pre-payment meter or prepayment meter”.

It appears that there was no widespread publicity of this scheme and consumer bodies were neither consulted nor taken into confidence by governments and discoms. There are already serious doubts being expressed by consumer bodies. They range from the actual cost of the meter to the accuracy and reliability of such meters.

There are also several implications of these meters. If the smart meter is not recharged in time for any genuine difficulty or due to any technical snag, consumers are likely to face automatic disconnection. The system is a also bound to lead to large-scale unemployment of employees from meter reading and billing sections of discoms. Such mass scale unemployment is going to create massive socioeconomic problems.

If discoms insist on replacing existing meters with prepaid smart meters, then consumers can also insist on immediate refund of the security deposits lying with all these discoms. Consumers will be justified in refusing to adjust these security deposits against their future bills because technically the day the discom installs a prepaid meter, it has no legal right to hold the security deposit even for one single day. This can create serious liquidity issue for discoms. The smart system may be costeffective for discoms, but considering the genuine practical difficulties likely to be faced by consumers and also keeping consumer interest in mind, government must consider providing postpaid facility.

As regards legal challenges to this scheme, a PIL has been filed by ex-mayor Nirmala Prabhavalkar in Bombay High Court and the same may come up soon for hearing. Although the Maharashtra government has now announced it will hold back the rollout of smart meters for domestic consumers, this may be a temporary relief. relief. In my opinion, it will be advisable for the governments and discoms to forthwith engage in a healthy dialogue with consumer bodies to address the concerns expressed by consumer bodies.

(Advocate Shirish V Deshpande is chairman, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat. Queries can be sent to him on email: shirish50@yahoo.com)

RECENT STORIES

Bombay HC: Wife Can Choose To File Domestic Violence Case In Magistrate Or Family Court

Bombay HC: Wife Can Choose To File Domestic Violence Case In Magistrate Or Family Court

Bombay HC Reviews Death Sentences In 7/11 Train Blasts Case Amid Convict Appeals

Bombay HC Reviews Death Sentences In 7/11 Train Blasts Case Amid Convict Appeals

Mumbai: Bandra Resident Fights To Bring Controversial 'Wagh Nakh' Claw Of Chhatrapati Shivaji From...

Mumbai: Bandra Resident Fights To Bring Controversial 'Wagh Nakh' Claw Of Chhatrapati Shivaji From...

Bombay HC Grants Default Bail To 2 Accused PFI Members Arrested By ATS

Bombay HC Grants Default Bail To 2 Accused PFI Members Arrested By ATS

Maharashtra Shocker: Missing Ratnagiri Couple Found Dead In Matheran Valley; Police Probe Financial...

Maharashtra Shocker: Missing Ratnagiri Couple Found Dead In Matheran Valley; Police Probe Financial...