Government of India notified “Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020” on 21-Dec-20; as a major step to ensure the rights of consumers and to mandate standards of service such as round-the-clock electricity supply. The rules also provide for penalties for power distribution firms in case they do not maintain mandated standards of services.
“Beginning of an era of empowering Power Consumers in a paradigm shift bringing Consumers to Centre Stage” – statement by Shri R K Singh, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power and New & Renewable Energy, Government of India.
In this article, we provide a summary of key provisions of these rules on how they echo with the statement above.
Following key areas are covered in the Electricity (Rights of consumers) Rules, 2020 which provide enhancement for the rights of 300 million existing and prospective electricity consumers in the country under the Electricity Act, 2003:
Rights and Obligations
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 Act.
It is the right of consumer to have minimum standards of service for supply of electricity from the distribution licensee.
Release of new connection and modification in existing connection
Maximum time period of 7 days in metro cities and 15 days in other municipal areas and 30 days in rural areas identified to provide new connection and modify an existing connection
All distribution licensees to create a web portal and a mobile app for submission of application forms for all type of connections as well as modification in existing connection; thus, giving a major boost to digitalization and tracking of applications.
No connection shall be given without a meter and such meter shall be the smart pre-payment meter or pre-payment meter
Provision of Testing of meters by distribution licensee in case of receipt of complaint the consumer about their meter readings not being commensurate with his consumption of electricity, stoppage of meter, damage to the seal, burning or damage of the meter, etc.
Provisions for replacement of defective or burnt or stolen meters within 24 hours in urban areas and 72 hours in rural areas by the distribution licensee
Billing and payment
Complete transparency in applicable consumer tariffs - Tariff for each category of consumers shall be displayed on distribution licensee’s website and consumers shall be notified of change in tariff including fuel surcharge and other charges, a full billing cycle ahead of time, through distribution licensee’s website as well as through energy bills
Consumer shall have the option to pay bills online or offline - Bill amount of more than INR 1000/- (or an amount specified by the State Regulatory Commission) shall mandatorily be paid online. Commission shall specify a suitable incentive or rebate for payment through online system.
Reliability of supply
The distribution licensee shall supply 24x7 power to all consumers. However, the Commission may specify lower hours of supply for some categories of consumers like agriculture.
The Commission shall specify the following parameters to maintain the reliability of supply by the distribution licensee; namely:- (a) total duration and frequency of outages per consumer in a year; and (b) the minimum outage time (in minutes)
The distribution licensee shall put in place a mechanism, preferably with automated tools to the extent possible, for monitoring and restoring outages.
Consumer as "Prosumer"
While the prosumers will maintain consumer status and have the same rights as the general consumer, they will also have right to set up Renewable Energy (RE) generation unit including roof top solar photovoltaic (PV) systems – either by himself or through a service provider.
The regulations on Grid Interactive Roof top Solar PV system and its related matters shall provide for Net metering for loads up to 10kW and for gross metering for loads above 10kW.
The distribution licensee shall facilitate the process for setting up of RE generation system at prosumers’ premises. In case of any delay on the part of distribution licensee to fulfill responsibilities for facilitation of such process as per the provisions without any just cause, the distribution licensee shall be liable to pay compensation to the consumer at a rate which shall not be less than INR 500/- per day for each day of default.
Automatic compensation shall be paid to consumers for which parameters on standards of performance can be monitored remotely.
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:-
No supply to a consumer beyond a particular duration, to be specified by the Commission;
Number of interruptions in supply beyond the limits as specified by the Commission;
Time taken for connection, disconnection, reconnection, shifting;
Time taken for change in consumer category, load;
Time taken for change in consumer details;
Time taken for replacement of defective meters;
Time period within which bills are to be served;
Time period of resolving voltage related complaints; and
Bill related complaints.
Call Centre for Consumer Services
Distribution licensee shall establish a centralized 24x7 toll-free call center
The distribution licensees shall endeavor to provide all services through a common Customer Relation Manager (CRM) System to get a unified view
Grievance redressal mechanism
The distribution licensee shall establish Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF) which shall include consumer and prosumer representatives.
The consumer grievance redressal has been made easy by making it multi-layered and the number of consumer’s representatives have been increased from one to four.
The licensee shall specify the time within which various types of grievances by the different levels of the forums are to be resolved. Maximum timeline of 45 days specified for grievance redressal.
The performance of CGRF shall be monitored by the State Regulatory Commission.
Use of online access to various services such as application submission, monitoring status of application, payment of bills, status of complaints raised ,etc., to consumers through its website, web portal, mobile app and its various designated offices area-wise.
The distribution licensee shall provide all services such as application submission, payment of bills, etc., to senior citizens at their door-steps.
The details of scheduled power outages shall be informed to the consumers. In case of unplanned outage or fault, immediate intimation shall be given to the consumers through SMS or by any other electronic mode along with estimated time for restoration.
YOG INFRA view
Power distribution licensees are perhaps the most important link in the electricity value chain since it is consumer-facing. These Rules will ensure reliable power supply for consumers through regular monitoring by the state regulatory commissions.
With electricity being on the concurrent list, it is for states to ensure quality, reliable and affordable electricity to consumers. Further steps should be taken to improve the condition of distribution licensees (e.g., through regular tariff hikes or timely disbursal of electricity subsidies by state governments) so that they can abide by these Rules; since most of the licensees are plagued by low collection, increase in power purchase costs, inadequate tariff hikes and subsidy disbursements, and mounting dues from government departments.
These rules will also provide a major boost to renewable energy generation in the country by allowing consumers to be “prosumers” and giving them the right to generate electricity. However, the net metering regulations issued by State Regulatory Commissions need to go hand-in-hand with these Rules to ensure synergy and minimal conflict.
Overall, the notification of these Rules is a welcome step since they ensure the rights of electricity users and the move is in line with other recent power sector reforms, including implementing the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme in the electricity sector for better targeting of subsidies, promoting retail competition and instilling financial discipline at state-owned distribution companies.
As notified by the Government of India, following these rules is not optional for the distribution licensees i.e., it is a law and not a scheme. The consumer is not "powerless" now and if these Rules are not adhered to, there would be penalties for the defaulting parties.
For more information, click here to download the complete notification for “Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020".
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