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Ensuring accountability in the new Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020

  • Synopsis: the consumer protection rules will not guarantee better power supply quality without strong accountability provisions. 

Background 

  • Many states in India are not able to provide a quality supply of electricityspecifically to rural and small consumers. 
  • To resolve this issue, recently, the Union Ministry of Power has promulgated the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. The rules provide the consumer with the rights of power. 
  • It is expected that the new Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 will protect and empower electricity consumers’ rights. 

Read more – Electricity Rules 2020 |ForumIAS Blog 

 What are the limitations of the Rules?  

The following issues highlight the need for implementation of existing provisions in letter and spirit along with strong accountability provisions. 

  • First, Discoms are unable to provide quality supply. Reason for this is not a lack of rules or regulations but the lack of accountability mechanism to enforce them. For instance,  
  • Many rights provided in rules 2020 already exists in Standards of Performance (SoP) of various State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs). 
  • Second, the past efforts such as the draft National Tariff Policy, the proposed Electricity Act amendments, or various committee processes did not address the accountability concerns. 
  • Third, it is also doubtful that how Discoms will automatically compensate its consumers in the event of failure of power supply. Because, till now the availability of power supply is not monitored properly. 
  • Fourth, compensating consumers in the event of failure of power supply has serious financial implications. For example, 
  • In August 2020 rural areas received only 20 hours of supply. If existing regulations are followed it would cost hundreds of crores to discoms. 
  • Fifth, the new rules dilute the progressive mechanisms that exist in a few States. For example, 
    • As per the new rules faulty meters should be tested within 30 days of receipt of a complaint. 
    • However, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh have rules that mandate that such testing needs to be conducted within 7 days. 
  • Sixth, the rules that the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum should be headed by a senior officer of the DISCOMS company is a regressive provision.  
  • Because it will reduce the number of cases that are decided in favour of consumers.  
  • It also questions the credibility of the new Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. 
  • Seventh, some provisions are confusing and requires clarity. For example,  
  • The rules guarantee net metering for a solar rooftop unit less than 10 kW. But it is not clear whether solar rooftop unit above 10 kW can also avail net metering.  
  • This confusion will lead to unnecessary litigation which will increase investments costs in rooftop solar units. 
  • It will discourage medium and large consumers from opting an environment-friendly, cost-effective option. 

What steps are required? 

To ensure accountability, we need to consider implementing the following solutions, 

  • SERCs needs to be tasked to assess the SoP reports of DISCOMs and revise their regulations more frequently. Also, SERCs should be assisted in setting up public grievance mechanisms, to help consumers raise their concerns. 
  • Further, DISCOMs should be directed to ensure automatic metering at least at the 11 kV feeder level. This information should be available online. 
  • Apart from this, The Central Electricity Authority of India can also be directed to collect supply quality data from DISCOMs, publish data in the public domain and prepare analysis reports. 
  • Finally, the Central agencies too can support in independent surveys and nudge State agencies to enforce existing SoP regulations. 

The enactment of the new Rules will not change the status quo. Governments, DISCOMs and regulators should demonstrate the commitment and the will power to implement existing regulations to make the new Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 successful.  

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