This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Maybe sometime in the future, we will look back and think of 2020 as the problem child, when lots of things went wrong for us. Some of us, though, may also look back and remember this stepping into the new decade to be accompanied with horrifying electricity bills that put a dent in our wallets.
It turns out that people across India, and especially many in the state of Maharashtra, have been receiving astronomical electricity bills—some even ten times their usual monthly bill amounts.
Residents also complained about discrepancies in the bills and addition of extra amounts for previous months—months which had already been paid for.
Though Mumbai is a hotspot for the virus and these dizzying bills, those living in the states of Kerala, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have also complained about excessively high bills earlier this month.
Residents of Madhya Pradesh complained of electricity bills as high as Rs 50,000 ($662) in June—more than three times what they were used to paying. In Goa, some received bills that were 15 times more than what they paid.
In Delhi, the BJP opposition accused the AAP government of carrying out a scam worth Rs 1,131 crores ($150,000) in collusion with the power distribution companies. Delhi BJP President Adesh Gupta alleged that the citizens were getting electricity bills of up to 94 days without subsidy, and the government’s “silence” on the issue was “proving” that the power company sent huge bills with the government’s consent. “Even after 2 lakh (200,000)small and big industries were closed in lockdown, huge electricity bills have been charged from them through fixed charges and average bills,” said Gupta.
According to Adani Electricity Mumbai Limited (AEML) which supplies power to Mumbai apart from TATA Power and BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking), this has happened because they’ve been trying to clear the backlogs from the previous months. Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, meter reading activities were temporarily suspended for safety reasons in the state, and the bills for March and April were generated based on average consumption of the preceding three months. The bills were low then because most of India is cooler in those months, which means the power-guzzling air conditioners are usually off then. So, for March and April, customers were underbilled when the actual consumption was actually pretty high because of the summers and additional usage due to the lockdown.
Post Unlock 1.0, AEML resumed their meter reading. “Upon getting actual readings, to pass on the slab benefit to our customers, the total consumption for March to May have been uniformly allocated for the entire three month period—calculations are available on the backside of the bill,” says a statement released by AEML. “Your May consumption includes consumption of May as well as differential consumption owing to estimated consumption of March and April.” The same explanation was given by the electricity boards of other states, such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well.
Some people, however, are still not convinced with this explanation and allege there were anomalies while preparing the bill. Many received excessively high electricity bills despite their houses being unoccupied.
But Maharashtra State Energy Minister Nitin Raut insists that there is no foul play here. “In fact, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) too has suffered loss of approximately 3,500 in absence of physical reading, ” he told India Today. "People can check their bills online and avail to pay in installments. They don't have to pay in lump sum. We will not cut power supply.”
In Kerala, another state that has seen tons of complaints about unusually high electricity bills, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has announced that the government would underwrite up to 50 percent of the additional charge incurred by the households. “As they were unable to take the readings due to the lockdown, consumers have got a consolidated bill for four months resulting in huge amounts," said Vijayan, while addressing the media.
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