CIC: information about the theft of electricity & action taken thereon should be in public domain as it is in public interest - CIC: the Government should notify independent laboratory accredited by NABL wherein meters can be verified objectively
CIC: recommendation made to the DERC that it should collect the information in general about the theft of electricity and action taken thereon; As the Delhi High Court’s order dated 30.11.2006 in W.P (C) 6735/2007 DERC Vs. CIC, directing that DERC cannot use its regulating power merely to obtain information (not already with it) from other bodies of concerns, in order to answer queries or information application received by the DERC, the CIC cannot do anything except deferring its order until the HC finally decides whether DISCOM is a public authority - CIC: information about theft of electricity and actions taken thereon should be available in public domain, because prevention of theft and seeking information about it is in public interest - CIC: the Government should notify independent laboratory accredited by NABL wherein meters can be verified independently
2. The appellant submitted that he is seeking information through his RTI application dt.12-11-2012, as to, in the month of September 2010, NDPL’s EAC, has made inspections and booked cases of DAE in circle North, how many seized meters were sent to NABL for testing, list of consumers booked under EAC, etc. PIO replied on 12122012 intimating that the DISCOMs are not covered under RTI Act at present and also referred to Delhi High Court Order dated 30.11.2006 in W.P (C) 6735/2007 DERC Vs. CIC, whereby the Delhi High Court had directed that DERC cannot use its regulatory power merely to obtain information (not already with it) from other bodies or concerns, in order to answer queries or information to RTI applications received by the DERC. Being unsatisfied with the information provided the appellant preferred First Appeal. FAA by his order dt. 18-1-2013 directed the PIO to obtain information regarding dishonest abstraction of energy (DAE)/unauthorized use of electricity (UUE), cases from Engineering Division, as available with them and provide the same to the appellant within 21 days. Having not received the information as sought by the appellant, he has filed 2nd appeal before the Commission.
3. Heard the submissions. The problem reflected in this RTI application is that, in the name of arresting the theft of electricity by unscrupulous people, who manipulate the meters, the DISCOMs are exercising arbitrary powers leading to harassment of consumers. The appellant submitted that the DISCOM’s agents are selectively inspecting the meters and condemning the consumers as thieves without any basis. If the DISCOM finds disproportionate consumption of electricity as indicated by the feeder level meters, their agents can inspect the consumer’s meter and seize it to examine whether meter was tampered or not. The DISCOM officers are expected to follow the procedure prescribed by DERC under the Delhi Electricity Supply Act and Performance Standards Regulations, 2007. The appellant alleged that the DISCOM chooses a gullible/innocent consumer, seizes his meter without having any scientific basis for suspicion of theft and also conveniently avoid the procedure prescribed by DERC. The verification is expected to be done by a laboratory which is accredited by NABL, a public authority. When Commission enquired, it was told by the respondent authority that there were no independent or State controlled laboratories where the tampering or otherwise of meters could be impartially examined and reported. The appellant apprehended that the consumers are compelled to depend totally on the laboratories which function under the control of DISCOMs and if a DISCOM wants to damn a consumer, they could manufacture an adverse report against Consumer. It became a serious matter of administration of justice as this leaves lot of scope of corruption without any possibility of independent cross checking. This concern is expressed by the appellant through his RTI questions.
4. Based on the scheme of regulation of electricity distribution companies under the law and the public character of their activity and Government’s holding of 49% equity in DSCOMs the Commission finds that it is the duty of the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission to collect the information, share it with the citizens under RTI Act because electricity generation and distribution is mostly done by the Government and public sector industries or under Public Private Partnership.
5. Consumer Protection Act. 1986 provides in statement of objects and reasons at 2(b) the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard, and price of goods to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;…” Consumer Protection Councils have a duty to promote and protect the consumer rights as envisaged in statement of objects and reasons and under Section 6.
6. They are supposed to keep the information open in the interests of consumers as a service which if denied, a citizen has right to question it. A citizen, as consumer of electricity or as a citizen under RTI Act, is entitled to get the information. Appellant has a right to information as a consumer under Consumer Protection Act, and as a citizen he can enforce that right through Right to Information Act 2005, as per the definition of information under Section 2(f).
7. Each DISCOM in Delhi is claiming that it is not Public Authority and refusing to give any information. The respondent authority submitted that the Delhi High Court vide its order WP(Civil) No.6735/2007 stated that Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) cannot use its regulatory power to compel the DISCOMs to furnish information to be supplied in response to RTI applications under RTI Act. (The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in same order clarified that if the information about DISOMS is a collected pool of information, available with the DERC, they have a duty to share).
8. The Respondents submitted that their Commission has vehemently opposed these contentions of DISCOMs and in the public interest of justice, they are supposed to use regulatory power to collect the information relating to DISCOMs.
9. The Commission is in agreement with the view of the DERC representatives that there is a huge public interest in securing the information from DISCOMs. The stay order of Hon’ble Delhi High Court is only an interim order and not a full fledged judgment which is expected to be made only after comprehensive hearing wherein probably the public interest for exercising the regulatory power to collect information for furnishing the same to the consumers/ applicants under RTI Act, would be recognized.
10. The Commission finds that as per the law and functional mechanism of DERC, electricity generation and distribution is basically public in character and information is supposed to be in public domain. The Delhi Government has 49% shares in the three DISCOMs which is certainly a substantial funding which will bring DISCOM into the fold of public authority.
11. Hence the Commission recommends to the DERC that it should collect the information in general about the theft of electricity and action taken thereon. It is the consumers who are ultimately bearing the brunt of the losses suffered by the DISCOMs due to thefts. Therefore, the DISCOMs are under a duty and obligation to give the information to the regulatory authority, which is expected to collect that information for its own review and regulations. As the Delhi High Court’s order dated 30.11.2006 in W.P (C) 6735/2007 DERC Vs. CIC, directing that DERC cannot use its regulating power merely to obtain information (not already with it) from other bodies of concerns, in order to answer queries or information application received by the DERC, the Commission cannot do anything except deferring its order until the Hon’ble High Court finally decides the questions such as whether DISCOM is a public authority and whether DERC can collect information from DISCOM using its regulatory power so that such information could be given to applicants or to be kept in public domain. The Commission finds justification in the argument that information about theft of electricity and actions taken thereon should be available in public domain, because prevention of theft and seeking information about it is in public interest.
12. The appellant submitted that the DISCOMs are having NABL approved laboratory with them. But there are no other laboratories with such approvals beyond the DISCOMs, where a consumer can approach and have independent third party verification. Where theft is suspected the DISCOM is expected to seize the meter and get it verified by NABL approved laboratory and if it is found that the meter was tampered, appropriate penalty was to be imposed.
13. There is no independent laboratory accredited by NABL wherein meters can be verified independently. Such verification if made possible, it is apprehended that it would be very costly for the consumer. At times, the cost of verification might go beyond the cost of the meter or exorbitant bill, the consumer is asked to pay.
14. As per Rule 2A of the Consumer Protection Rules 1987 made under Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the State government has to recognize laboratory as appropriate laboratory. If approved, that has to be notified by the State Government for the purposes of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for three years.
15. The Commission recommends that the Government should recognize and notify or establish independent laboratory, which based on viable complaint, should conduct the required test objectively. If the test proves that the meter was tampered, the Government should take action as per regulations because the state has a responsibility to offer good governance and provide needed machinery to prevent corruption in charging the consumers for consumed electricity. The Commission also recommends the Government to consider introducing the system of independent audit of DISCOMs by the C & A G.
16. The Respondent Authority also submitted that they have provided the information which was available with them as per the record and that they have nothing more to add as to the present case. The appeal is partly disposed off with the above observations and the final hearing of the appeal on the question whether DISCOM is under obligation to disclose the information sought in its capacity as public authority is deferred until the writ petition is finally decided by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Citation: Sh. Gurdip Singh Vs. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission in File No.CIC/AD/A/2013/000765SA