KESC: EXCESS BILLING

Isn't it time to treat the consumers with a little more respect?

By SYED M. ASLAM
July 21 - 27, 2003

The power consumers of Karachi are not only subjected to discriminatingly high tariffs than the rest of the country but are also increasingly forced to foot excessively high bills. In any civilized society, complaints of such rampant excessive billing would have been taken seriously by the power service provider but such is not the fate of the consumers of this megapolis.

PAGE visited KESC's billing office at Hyderi, North Nazimabad and witnessed the helplessness of the consumers to unsucessfully convince the authorities about excessive billing. The majority of complaints comprised erratic billing with no change in pattern of consumption or addition of any electrical appliances. For instance, a residential consumer in North Karachi was billed for 162 units in April received a bill for consumption of 383 units in May depicting an increasing of 136 per cent in power consumption in just one month. The sudden jump in monthly consumption in the bill had come without the slightest change in consumption pattern of the consumer during the two billing periods including usage of any additional electrical appliances. In June, the consumer was billed for 257 units which was lower than the 383 units billed the previous month but still higher than the 200 units billed in April.

Just how much this pattern of erratic billing cost the consumer is evident from the amounts they represent. The 162 units billed in April cost the consumer Rs 400.00, 383 units in May cost inflated his bill to Rs 1,400.00 while 257 units billed in June cost him Rs 800. If this is not erratic billing than what is? Only a faulty meter can churn out such erratic readings resulting in such erratic billing and defending the billing, even if based on meter reading, hardly makes any sense to the consumer. The question is: why not check the meters as requested by the consumers instead of defending the billing no matter how absurd it looks? The practice of treating regularly bill paying consumers like thieves should stop.

When the consumer pointed out the flaw of the erratic billing and asked the staff at the billing office to check the meter, both the lower and the middle level staff tried to "convince" him that since the bill was issued after reading "it got to be correct." The "convincing" included veiled threat of obliging the consumer's request for the checking of the meter, churning out reading resulting in such erratic billing, by casually dropping the hint that the consumer should be ready to pay for "consequences of meter tempering."

Certainly the KESC authorities have found a novel way to persuade the consumers not to file complaints about excessive billing to keep on paying their erratic and high bills sheepishly. Is this the way to handle the genuine complaints of the consumers about highly erratic billing which are costing them heavily financially. In addition, what kind of a recourse do the consumers have when authorities insist so vehemently about the health of KESC bills despite much too obvious an erratic billing.

PAGE also met a mother and son who have been making rounds of the said KESC billing department for last three months. They are the residents of a 120 yard house in Khandoo Goth, Block B, North Nazimabad. Talking about their woes they said they hail to a low income family and have made numerous rounds of the billing department to file written applications that the old power meter installed at their residence has "gone free years ago." "We have been receiving highly erratic bills for years and the situation has reached a situation where we just cannot afford to pay them anymore. We have filed a number of written complaints and were told by the KESC staff that they could do nothing and we keep on getting billed for a meter which has gone berserk to consume power only when necessary and yet we keep receiving the wrong bills."

Informed sources told PAGE that the new meters installed by the KESC are much faster than the ones used by it previously. "The old Chinese and locally made meters were okay but the new ones installed by the corporation are as much as 70 per cent faster than the previous ones. In addition, the majority of average bills, issued on the basis of average consumption instead of actual meter reading, particularly in the katchi abadis are inflated to mask extra units."

Though the over billing practice is aimed at lessening the heavy Transmission and Distribution losses, which stands at around high 40 per cent, it is highly unethical as collectively punishes the consumers for the misdeeds of individual consumers. Sources said that complaints about excess billing is on the rise and the job is made more difficult as KESC does not have sufficient staff to check the individual meters across the length and breadth of the magapolis.

In any other part of the world the shoddy treatment meted out to the consumers approaching the KESC to rectify genuine complaints about excess billing should have been accorded the top priority it merits. However, such is not the fate of the power consumers of Karachi as KESC keeps on meting out collective punishment against all norms of fair business ethics. Isn't it time to treat the consumers with a little more respect?