When the country’s people continue to suffer afflictions due to fallouts of deadly coronavirus, providing ghost electricity bills to consumers has simply added spikes to their tortured souls in this hard time.
Anwarul Islam, a resident of Hazaribagh area in the capital, complained to The Bangladesh Post that his electricity bill in May was Tk 213,000. The previous month's bill was around taka 28 thousand. As the use of electricity is decreasing due to coronavirus, the electricity bill is supposed to come down rather, he added.
Anwarul Islam is not alone in brining complaints about ghost electricity bills, also many such customers are alleging that the distribution company is giving them ghost electric bills.
The ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources has ended its liability only by issuing a warning against the distribution companies. No action has been taken against those who are making extra bills. Though there is Energy Regulatory Commission to look after the interests of the consumers, the commission is not playing any role. When the ghost electricity bills continue to haunt consumers, the commission remains silent, avoiding their liability.
Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) chairmen Md. Abdul Jalil told The Bangladesh Post that “We know that people are being harassed due to extra electricity bills. We do not see it. We see if anyone changes the tariff or price. Even then, after the matter came to our notice, we exchanged views with the ministry and heads of various distribution companies. The distribution companies said it was their fault. They will prepare actual bills through accurate meter readings. If the bill has been more or less before then it will be adjusted.”
Though BERC Chairmen avoids his liability on this issue, however, according to BERC act (Article 22 of Chapter-4), the commission must ensure appropriate remedy for consumer disputes, dishonest business practices or monopoly.
Prof Samsul Alam, an energy expert and energy advisor of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), told The Bangladesh Post that ‘That's not true what he (Energy Commission Chairmen) said. One of the responsibilities of BERC is to protect the interests of consumers. The BERC Act clearly states that it will regulate unscrupulous businesses and protect consumers interests. Collecting extra bills falls into the category of dishonest business and it is against the interest of the consumer.’
Ariful Islam, a resident of Kallayanpur in the capital, told The Bangladesh Post “Normally I pay taka 550 to 700 per month for electricity bill. But none stayed at my home for the whole month of May. After returning home this month, I was given an electricity bill of Tk 3287.”
"If I don't pay the arrears by June 30, I shall have to pay the fine, so I have paid the full bill to avoid trouble,” he said.
Another consumer Sumon Alam wrote on his facebook, ‘I don't understand why this is happening, my monthly 1500 taka’s bill has stood this time at taka 4800, can you imagine ..... !! "
Engineer Bikash Dewan, Managing Director of Dhaka Power Distribution Company Limited (DPDC), told The Bangladesh Post that ‘We have already adjusted the additional electricity bill this month. Even then, if anyone has a complaint about the extra bill, they can go to our website and let us know. Anyone can mail me if he wants. If we find complaints correct then bills will be adjusted.’
“There may be additional bills for several reasons. One reason is, if the bill is more or less in a month, then the next month will be affected. Due to Coronavirus infection, it was not possible to go from house to house and prepare the accurate bills to cheek the meter. Secondly, the government has increased the tariff on electricity bills which has come into effect from March. Due to this the electricity bill may be higher. In addition, the electricity consumption has increased due to heat in summer, which can be a reason for higher bills.” he added.
The aggrieved people think since it is a mistake of power distribution officials or staff, it is their responsibilities to adjust the bills.
Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the government decided not to impose any fine on the delayed electricity bill payment from February to May. The consumers get this facility, who will pay their bills within June 30. But the distribution companies are not following the instructions properly.
Several sources said that the problem was triggered by meter readers as they made bills based on assumptions without going to any home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Based on the customers' complaints, the power division said in a press release that those who received extra bills from the actual bills will be adjusted in future. The notification also requested the customers not to be worried about the matter.
However, aggrieved customers said meter readers never visit their homes and make the bills.
In most cases, they hardly pay any heed to customers' complaints. Moreover, they misbehave with the people, complained several customers.
Freelance writer Farhana Milli wrote in a Facebook status, “I have been renting a house in Dhaka city for 21 years. I have never had the good fortune to see an electricity bill of so much money. I have to pay 11,120 taka for two months. How is it possible? The bill I pay in ten months has to be paid in two months.
The maximum monthly bill was taka 1,900. Usually I paid taka 1400 to 1600 per month and taka 1000 to 1,200 taka in winter.”
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid said the additional bills would be adjusted later after verifying the customers' complaints. There is no reason to worry about this, he added.
He also said, “Any complaint regarding electricity bill can be made directly by visiting the website of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources (www.mpemr.gov.bd) or the customer can contact his nearest power distribution company office. There is also an opportunity to inform directly to my mobile via SMS or e-mail (email@example.com). Complaints can also be made by contacting the focal persons of the concerned distribution company.”
Customers in Narayanganj have become agitated with the ghost electricity bills. DPDC's Narayanganj Shitalakshya Zone organized a public hearing on June 2. The customers demanded the withdrawal of the 'ghost' electricity bills.
The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) has submitted a letter to the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) to alleviate the sufferings of consumers regarding their additional electricity bills.
It was said in the letter, there are allegations that there is no logical and acceptable basis for the amount claimed in those bills. In some cases, the amount of these outstanding bills is more than 10 times than the actual amount. In the current situation, such incidents contradict the government's consumer-friendly measures.