AN OVERVIEW OF THE ELECTRICITY (RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS) RULES, 2020

INTRODUCTION

India with a population of 1.3 Bn People has a huge market for electricity and thus require a proper set of regulation in its place to avoid any mismanagement of the interest of consumers. The electricity sector in India is virtually a monopoly of the Public sector and private companies and a Monopoly sector in its course of time certainly possess a threat to its consumer. These rules[1], framed and introduced lately in India through powers conferred by sub-section (1) read with clause (z) of sub-section (2) of section 176 of the Electricity Act, 2003 (Act 36 of 2003)[2] to the Central government to introduce such rules to compensate for the loss of presence stipulated consumers right.

SCOPE OF RULES

Electricity in India comes in the concurrent list under Schedule Seven of the Indian Constitution and thus the Central government also has the authority to make a rule over this matter.[3] The rules cover various aspects of the country’s power supply to consumers, such as distribution licensee obligations, metering arrangements, the release of new connections, modifications to existing connections, grievance redressal, and compensation mechanisms. These rules try to achieve their aim by stipulating various obligations of DISCOMs towards its consumer and by holding them accountable for the same. The rules have created a framework within which the respective SERC (State Electricity regulation commission) have to frame minimum standards and rules which can’t be relaxed more than what has been mentioned in the central rules.[4]

IMPACT ON CONSUMERS

Major aspects in which these rules impact consumers are:

i) Seeking New connection or Changes in current Connection

Rule(4) deals with it which makes way for Online submission of a connection request and allows for online tracking of such requests and stipulates minimum time (i.e 7 to 30 days depending upon the area of residences such as metro or rural area)[5] under which such and so request should be ideally provided by Discoms. And if the Discom fails to provide electricity it should be liable for penalty under sub-rule (12) of the mentioned rule.[6]

ii) Metering

Rule (5) Deals with the metering of connection which states that no new connection should be provided without a meter which should be ideally a smart prepaid meter or pre-payment meter. The sub-rules further allow for remote reading of Meter. And if Incase the meter remains inaccessible for authorities to read, consumers should be allowed to share a picture of the meter reading with Discom via email or mobile number, and the Discom should be prohibited from sending any Provisional bill to the consumer during this time.[7] Sub-rule (8) Mentions zero charges to be paid by the consumer if the Meter is found to be defective at the time of testing of such meter and the charge for the new meter should be levied against the subsequent bills. Importantly sub-rule (10) Mentions the scenario where the meter reading is found to be inaccurate the excess or deficit fees should be accounted for against the subsequent bills to the consumer and the testing of such meter’s functioning should be done by a listed third party. Then further keeping in mind the less availability of meters with Discoms sub-rule 14 states “Non-Availability of meters shouldn’t be a reason for the delay in restoration of supply”[8] Importantly Sub-rule 15 clearly states the liability of meter if such meter is placed outside the premise of the owner by Discom or within the premise of Consumer.[9]

iii) Billing, payment and Disconnection.

The rules in the domain of billing i.e Rule (6) Sub-rule-1, tries to bring transparency among its consumer upon the tariff charged to them. Sub-rule (6) specifies the way for settlement of excess or deficit billing. Further in relief to consumers if the discoms do not serve the consumer with any bill within a specific period not exceeding 60 days should then such consumers should be allowed a rebate of 2-5% of the bill amount[10] moreover sub-rule(9) deters Discoms from serving more than two provisional bills in one financial year and if the Discoms Continues with serving provisional bills the consumer would have right to refuse pay bill until actual meter reading is taken.

Rule (7) deals with the Payment of such bills which allows the consumer to either pay their bills online or offline and further sub-rule- (2) seeks to establish a minimum amount from which onwards the bill is to be paid online mandatorily and the SERC should provide an incentive for online payments.

Rule (9) provides for easy disconnection and stipulates a minimum time of 6hrs to restore supply if the disconnection was due to non-repayment of the bill.

iv) Reliability and Standards

Rule 10, Sub rule-1 mentions mandating 24*7 electricity supply with some exceptions as specified by Respective SERCs.[11]

Further SERCs are levied with the responsibility of specifying minimum standards of performance under section (1) of section 57 of the Electricity act 2003. Which asks for establishing such standards after consultation with Discoms and consumers by SERC.[12]

Rule (12) further seeks SERCs to assess and determine the compensation amount to be paid by Discoms to the consumer for the failure of maintaining such performance standards by them.

CONSUMERS AS PROSUMERS

This was the much needed Right for consumers and such recognition in Indian laws was not just crucial for securing rights for people who were consumers in nature but at the same time were playing a very important role in the evolving dynamic power sector of our country by securing and helping India its Green Energy Goals.

Rule 11 discusses & recognizes prosumers as such people who “have the same rights as the general consumer, they will also have right to set up Renewable Energy (RE) generation unit including rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems – either by himself or through a service provider.”[13] The rules further laid down responsibility and timeframes to SERCs and Discoms to facilitate the process for such consumers who wish to set up such RE generation plants and also stipulates penalties amounting to not less than Rs.500/Day if there is any delay without justification by Discoms in providing clearance for functioning and integrating the plant with the grid.[14]

The guidelines also stipulate two schemes of billing mechanism applicable to such prosumers which were:- Net Metering(Favored Prosumers) for power generation up to 10KW which was later increased to 500KW through the 2021 amendment due to criticism of it being discouraging for commercial offices or company owner who could contribute effectively to generate more green energy with more rooftop space and Gross metering(Didn’t favoured prosumers) for power generation above 500KW.

Compensation Mechanism

Rule 13 deals with the compensation and stipulates for an automated mode of compensation assessment and disbursement where the compensation is being discharged for the parameters framed or failure of standard performance by Discoms which could be remotely assessed where such compensation is given off keeping in mind the section 57(2) of The Indian electricity Act 2003.[15]

Further, the Rule 13 mentions such parameters that should be considered for assessment and compensation and gradually new increased parameters should be introduced by SERCs The standards of performance for which the compensation is required to be paid by the distribution licensee include, but are not limited to, the following, namely: –[16]

(i) no supply to a consumer beyond a particular duration, to be specified by the Commission;

(ii) number of interruptions in supply beyond the limits as specified by the Commission;

(iii) time taken for connection, disconnection, reconnection, shifting;

(iv) time taken for change in consumer category, load;

(v) time taken for change in consumer details;

(vi) time taken for replacement of defective meters;

(vii) time period within which bills are to be served;

(viii) time period of resolving voltage-related complaints; and

(ix) bill-related complaints.  

CONCLUSION

The Electricity (rights of consumers) rules 2020 in itself is landmark progress in the power sector of our country and it’s a way forwards toward a more consumer-centric industry which recognizes the interest of its consumers. The power distribution sector in India is still heavily abused by local Discoms where people are not much aware of the laws and rights available to them against such power distributors and often since these Discoms are largely government owns people don’t have the resources at disposal to fight with such discoms to secure their interest. Nevertheless, reforms such as Consumer Grievance redressal forums are being established by discoms under rule 15 of the said rules have been a good step. Overall, from other aspects, the rules are also a welcome step to encourage rooftop solar power generation thus helping India meet its Paris Accord goals.

Author(s) Name: Prashant Dound (MNLU, Nagpur)

References:

[1] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020

[2] Ibid

[3] INDIA Const. Schedule 7, Part 38.

[4] Twesh Mishra, ‘New Electricity rules gives consumer across India the right to 24*7 supply’ Business Standard (New Delhi 22 DEC 2020)

[5] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.4(11)

[6] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.4(12)

[7] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.5(6)

[8] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.5(11)

[9] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule5(15)

[10] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.6(10)

[11] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.10(1)

[12] The Electricity Act 2003, s.s (1)57

[13] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.11(1)

[14] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.11(12)

[15] Electricity (Rights of consumer) Rules 2020 Rule.13(2)

[16] Electricity (Rights of consumers) Rules 2020 Sub Rule (4)13