Kolkata: Facing public outrage over ‘exorbitant’ power bills, the CESC Ltd, which supplies electricity in Kolkata and its neighbourhood, announced on Sunday night that it is putting ‘in abeyance’ the power bills for the months of April and May, a decision that the state’s ruling party, Trinamool Congress (TMC) celebrated as a victory for Kolkata.
Consumers, however, called the announcement vague, questioning the method the private agency would adopt when it comes to calculating the specific power consumption for the month of June when the last reading had been taken in March for the month of February.
CESC formally announced the decision on its social media platform at 8.59 pm on Sunday. “In consideration of the inconvenience of certain sections of society, we have decided to keep in abeyance the amount for the last two months included in the current bills of all low voltage domestic consumers. In effect, such consumers are to pay now only the amount pertaining to their consumption for the current month included in the above bills,” the company wrote on their Facebook page.
“Details in this regard are being worked out considering suitable regulatory guidelines. Meanwhile, the due dates for payment stand extended. The modalities will be announced shortly.”
The decision was earlier taken during a meeting with the state power minister Sobhandeb Chatterjee.
TMC celebrated the decision even before CESC had formally announced it. At 8.24 pm on Sunday, Abhishek Banerjee, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and the party’s youth wing chief, wrote on Twitter, “CESC announces relief to 25.5 L consumers out of total 33 L consumers in #Kolkata.”
Around 25.5 L consumers have been benefitted by CESC’s decision to not charge for the unbilled units of April & May along with the June electricity bill. Those who had already paid it need not worry. It is clarified that you can either take a refund or adjust it in future bills.
— Abhishek Banerjee (@abhishekaitc) July 20, 2020
The power minister said on Monday that CESC will be sending the June bills afresh. “They have sought some time to finalise the modalities. We are happy with the outcome and a great number of people will benefit,” he said.
There has been a furore in Kolkata over the past few weeks, as scores of consumers took to social media to express their shock and anguish over power bills for June. A number of celebrities joined the protest bandwagon. Copies of bills uploaded on social media revealed that domestic users had been served bills ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. Some had been billed even more.
CESC had argued that the bills were on the higher side because the actual readings for March and April, and in some cases May, could not be taken due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The June (and in some cases May) bills reflected the original consumption, including adjustment for the previous months.
The bill for March 2020 was prepared based on March 2019 consumption and the bill for April was based on the average consumption of the past six months.
Activists and consumers, however, were not convinced. Speaking on behalf of Citizens Against Power Tariff Hike, political activist Prasenjit Bose called CESC’s statement “misleading” and one that “has only added to the confusion initially created by the inflated electricity bills.”
“The CESC has not informed the consumer what their current month consumption is in their latest bills. The May-June bills based on actual meter readings do not provide any monthly break-up of the total power consumption. In fact, while the present meter reading has been mentioned in the bill, the previous meter reading has been deliberately omitted. Therefore, the basis of calculation of the units consumed and energy charges have remained a mystery,” Bose said.
All Bengal Electricity Consumers’ Association, which staged a demonstration in front of CESC headquarters in central Kolkata on Monday, raised similar concerns.