Consumers across the country will now have the right to a minimum standard of service for supply of electricity. This will also include the right to round-the-clock electricity supplies, unless stated otherwise for a specific category, such as an agricultural connection.
Announcing the notification of the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power and New and Renewable Energy R K Singh said, “Power distribution companies (discoms) across the country are monopolies — whether government or private — and the consumer has no alternative. Therefore, it was necessary that consumer rights be laid down in rules and a system for enforcement of these rights be put in place.”
These rules provide for rights of consumers and obligations of distribution licensees, release of new connection and modification in existing connection, metering arrangement, billing and payment, among others.
An automatic compensation mechanism will be put in place. It will include no supply to a consumer beyond a particular duration and certain number of interruptions in supply, which will be specified by the regulatory commission.
“The distribution licensee shall supply 24×7 power to all consumers. However, the commission may specify lower hours of supply for some categories of consumers like agriculture,” stated an official statement.
According to Union Power Secretary Sanjiv N Sahai, this relaxation has been allowed since pumps do need to be run 24×7 for supplying water to fields.
The rules stated it is the duty of every distribution licensee to supply electricity on request made by an owner or occupier of any premises in line with the provisions of the Act. A new connection has to be given within a maximum time period of seven days in metro cities, 15 days in other municipal areas, and 30 days in rural areas.
Responding to a query from Business Standard on the enforceability of these rules by state government-controlled power discoms, Singh said, “Electricity is a concurrent subject and the Centre has the power to make rules that have to be enforced by all. These rights have been notified. It is now the responsibility of the discoms to apprise consumers of these rules.”
Singh said state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs) can specify stricter timelines and service quality parameters, but cannot relax these rights to consumers.
“Being an imposition from above, the rules will have the effect of creating conflict and inconsistency with the performance standards already framed/specified by the SERCs. In that context, the rules seem to impinge upon the exclusive domain of the SERCs. The custodian(s) of consumer rights and interests under the Electricity Act, 2003, are the regulatory commissions at the central and state level,” said Anupam Varma, partner, J Sagar Associates.
These rules are based on the draft issued in September this year. Singh said nearly 100 suggestions were received on the draft and they have been incorporated in the final rules.
The rules recognise consumer as a prosumer as well, where prosumers will maintain consumer status and have the same rights as a general consumer. They will also have right to set up renewable energy generation unit, including rooftop solar photovoltaic systems — either on their own or through a service provider. It also allows net metering for loads up to 10 kilowatt (kW) and for gross metering for loads above 10 kW.