The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power law with power punch
- Choice of supplier comes with a price
  • Customer can choose who to buy power from.
  • Gurantee of quality power
  • Low to nil power cuts
  • Connection within one month
  • Compensation in 90 days for default in supply
  • Assessing officer(appointed by supplier) may cut off your TV and fridge connection
  • Search your house in your absence
  • Inspect any document at home
  • You have to explain why a meter other than that installed is in your possession
  • If a penalty is slapped, you have to pay first and then appeal

New Delhi, May 5: The ground rules in the power sector have been redrawn. What this means is that soon — though no one is ready to say when — you will be able to go shopping for an electricity connection just as you do for a cellular service provider.

The government’s ambitious intention to provide electricity to all by 2012 cleared the final legislative hurdle today when it was approved by Parliament but there are a number of obstacles that lie ahead.

Reform lies at the core of the law which should help cash-strapped state electricity boards to clean up the financial mess they are in.

Besides the option to choose his power supplier, the customer stands to benefit — at least on paper — as he will be assured of steady, good quality power that won’t wreck home appliances like fridges and ACs.

The bad news is that the law has bestowed enormous power in the hands of private electricity distribution companies. Section 135 provides that an assessing officer appointed by the company can “enter, inspect, break open and search any place or premises in which he has reason to believe that electricity has been, is being or is likely to be, used unauthorisedly”. They can “search, seize and remove all such devices, instruments, wires and any other facilitator or article which has been, is being, or is likely to be, used for unauthorised use of electricity”.

If power theft is detected, it will be assumed that you have been stealing power for at least three months and penalties slapped. In the case of industrial consumers, it will be assumed that the theft has been going on for at least six months. The onus of proof will be on the consumer to show that he hasn’t been thieving for so long. The penalty is 1.5 times the tariff.

Observers pointed out that this clause can be misused by distribution companies which are likely to employ hired thugs (credit card companies and auto loan agencies use them) to force consumers to pay.

The clause also empowers the assessing officer to examine any book of accounts or documents which “in his opinion” may be relevant to the action relating to default of payment of bills or any other offence.

A senior power ministry official said: “There are certain clauses that will ensure the effectiveness of reforms and develop the sector in an efficient way. Once the market matures it will take care of these issues — any company that employs thugs or uses these clauses to unnecessarily harass the public may not get customers.”

Power minister Ananth Geethe called the Act a revolutionary step. It provides for the setting up of a central electricity authority, regulatory commissions and appellate tribunals besides the promotion of an efficient and environmentally benign policy. In the Rajya Sabha, he said the law would help minimise losses from generation, transmission and distribution. There were minor hiccups when Left members sought 108 amendments to the Bill.

For rural areas, the Act suggests the novel concept of handing billing for power purchase and management of local distribution to panchayat institutions, user associations, co-operative societies, NGOs or franchisees.

Harry Dhaul, president of the Independent Power Producers Association of India, said: “Power generation will get a boost and so will distribution. But there are issues that the Bill does not explain in relation to multiple distributors, captive power plants and regulation.”

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