To ensure better quality of electricity supply to consumers, Union power minister RK Singh on Monday announced the promulgation of the ‘Rights of Consumer Rules, 2020’ which lays down performance parameters for electricity distribution companies (discoms).
If the specified service standards are not met, discoms will have to pay compensation for power users. State electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs) will have to notify updated ‘standards of performance’ for discoms within 60 days and specify compensation amounts that consumers would receive as per the new rules. The parameters for which consumers would be eligible for compensation include unsatisfactory supply duration, number of power cuts, time taken by discoms to provide new connections and replace defective meters.
“Discoms across the country are monopolies — whether government or private — and the consumer has no alternative, therefore it was necessary that the consumers’ rights be laid down in rules and a system for enforcement of these rights be put in place,” Singh said, adding that “if there was open competition, perhaps the services would have been better”.
The government earlier wanted to amend the Electricity Act, 2003 to introduce ‘carriage and content separation’, which would have effectively allowed end-consumers to choose who they want to buy electricity from, similar to the way telecom operators work. However, the ‘carriage and content’ provision was removed from the latest draft version of the proposed amendments.
The new rules state that new connections and modification of existing connections in metro cities should be provided by discoms within seven days of receiving such requests. The time allotted is 15 days in other municipal areas and 30 days for rural consumers.
Discoms will have to make provisions that such requests can be made, and progress be tracked, online. If the consumers receive electric bills with a delay of more than 60-days, they will be eligible for a rebate of up to 5%.
All new connections will have to be given smart or regular pre-paid meters. Consumers with smart pre-paid meters will have to be given access to their usage data on a real-time basis, and they should also have the option of purchasing the meters by themselves. State electricity regulators will have to allow self-meter reading by post-paid consumers, and photographs of such readings sent through mobile or email will be deemed valid. In order to promote rooftop solar, discoms will have to make all arrangements to facilitate installation of renewable energy generation capacity in the premises of the ‘prosumers’ — consumers injecting electricity into the discoms’ grid.
Various state power regulators have already framed their respective supply codes and performance standards, and experts pointed that the new rules can be seen as to be impinging upon the exclusive domain of SERCs. “Being an imposition from above, the rules will have the effect of creating a conflict and inconsistency with the performance standards already framed/specified by the SERCs,” Anupam Varma, partner at J Sagar Associates, said.