Madras high court
CHENNAI: Giving a quietus to the raging charges of ‘amplified’ power consumption charges by Tangedco for households for the lockdown months, the Madras high court has held that the billing had an ‘element of fairness.’ Dismissing a public interest writ petition against the billing method adopted by Tangedco, a division bench of Justice M M Sundresh and Justice R Hemalatha on Wednesday concurred with the submissions of additional advocate general P H Arvindh Pandian, and said: “Looking from any perspective, we do not find any valid reason to find the method adopted as arbitrary. It is sound in reasoning and has benefited the consumers.”
As meter reading could not be done for March, April, May and June due to Covid-19 scare and the lockdown, Tangedco did three things: One, it asked consumers to remit the previous month’s bill amount as provisional payment for March-April months; two, it treated the four months as one block and divided the total consumption into two equal bi-monthly readings before applying the relevant slab charges; and three, it said it would minus the first 100 units of free power from each bi-monthy bill, and then charge the consumer for the remaining consumed electricity after deducting the provisional amount already paid.
Assailing this calculation, M L Ravi filed the present PIL saying the method would inflate the bill amount, as people would be placed in higher power consumption slabs and, consequently, asked to pay higher charges. It wanted the provisional payment to be first equated with the number of units of power consumed, and then calculate the remaining units to arrive at a bill. Dividing the total units of four months into two equal parts is not provided for anywhere in the supply code and it is an arbitrary exercise of power, he argued.
The judges held that the PIL-petitioner cannot seek a direction to adopt a particular methodology, which is beneficial to one set of consumers.
“We find that the procedure adopted exhibits an element of fairness. Obviously, one could infer that there has to be an increase in the usage of electricity of home during lockdown,” the judges said.
“While the welfare of the general public is important and the difficulties they have undergone due to the pandemic is serious, the role of the government in tackling the crisis and the resources required for the same is not a trivial issue to be brushed aside. The need to pay taxes and other statutory obligations on time becomes paramount to keep the government active and helpful. The method of calculation has to be uniform and acceptable to all and also in tune with the Electricity Supply Code,” the court said.
Soon after the high court verdict was out, Tangedco issued a press statement saying there were wrong reports were being shared on various media platforms claiming that inflated bills were being generated by it.
Explaining its billing method, and pointing out that it has now been upheld by the high court, it extended the last date for payment of outstanding bills in Covid-19 hit districts of Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Chengalpet, Madurai and Theni to July 30. The last date for payment of bills for consumers in containment zones, however, will be 15 days after the curbs are lifted.