y Smt. C.S. Sulekha Beevi, President,
1. Complainant is a consumer of electricity for agricultural purpose and domestic purpose under opposite party. As regards the agricultural connection he belonged to the non-payment group and the charges was paid by Krishi Bhavan. On 05-8-2003 his supply to agricultural connection was disconnected. On enquiries he was informed that the supply was disconnected due to default in paying charges. He enquired with Krishi Bhavan and came to know that all charges are paid. Though he informed this to first opposite party and requested for restoration of connection his request was not heeded to. He then send a written complaint on 19-8-2003 to the Executive Engineer, Ponnani and requested for restoration of connection. First opposite party came to know of this and behaved in a rude manner. Thereafter first opposite party issued two bills dated, 29-9-2003 for Rs.15,804/- and Rs.1,800/-. That these bills have no nexus with the energy consumed by him. Hence this complaint to set aside the bills and to pay compensation for illegal disconnection.
2. Opposite party filed version admitting that complainant is a consumer for agricultural connection (consumer No.5831) and for domestic connection (consumer No.4250) in the same premises. It is admitted that the agricultural connection belongs to the non-payment category and the charges are paid by Krishi Bhavan. Opposite party submits that the disconnection of agricultural connection was not done due to non-payment of current charges. It is stated that the agricultural connection was disconnected on 05-8-2003 because at the time of doing post shifting work near the house of complainant it was noticed by Sri.Rajesh, Sub Engineer, Electrical Section, Changaramkulam that the wiring installation was in a dangerous condition and the service wire was lying on the ground due to deteriorated condition of the shed and service pipe. Sri. Rajesh complained the matter to complainant and with permission of 1st opposite party the supply was disconnected u/s 44(b) of Conditions of Supply of Electrical Energy, 1990. That no agricultural pumping is necessary in Kerala during the month of July-November. The consumer rectified the defect and approached opposite party office. Since the season was monsoon there were many major breakdown works in the section and the field staff was too busy with the same. Moreover the reconnection requested was for agricultural connection for watering coconut, arecanut etc. which is in least necessity during monsoon. First opposite party assured the complainant to restore the supply before summer season. On 19-8-2003 complainant directly submitted a petition before Executive Engineer, Ponnani with copy to first opposite party. Usually no consumer demands a reconnection for agricultural connection during monsoon period. This aroused suspicion in the mind of first opposite party about the real intention demanding reconnection of agricultural connection. Under electrical section of Changaramkulam, there are large number of cases of misuse of energy. First opposite party along with Assistant Engineer, Electrical Sub division, Edappal, inspected the premises on 02-9-2003 and prepared the site mahazar. The irregularities were noted. The terminal cover of the domestic meter was not seen. Additional fuse units were seen installed in agricultural connect ion. The connected load of domestic connection was seen 6KW against sanctioning load of
3.160 KW. On verification of meter readings it was found that there was misuse of energy. The details of readings are furnished in the version. It is stated that the readings would show that complainant was using agricultural supply for domestic purpose. The bills issued are proper and legal and complainant is liable to pay the same.
3. Evidence consists of the affidavit filed by complainant. Exts.A1 to A4 marked for him. Counter affidavit filed by opposite party and Exts. B1 to B5 marked for opposite party. Either side has not adduced any oral evidence.
4. Points for consideration:-
- (i) Whether opposite party is deficient in service.
(ii) If so, reliefs and costs.
5. Point (i):-
The allegations levelled against opposite party are two fold (i) that opposite party illegally disconnected the agricultural connection of complainant and failed to restore it even after repeated requests. (ii) that the two bills dated, 29-9-2003 for Rs.15,084/- and Rs.1,800/- each are issued by first opposite party without any proper basis and only to meet personal vengeance against complainant.
6. Undisputedly the supply to agricultural connection of complainant was disconnected on 05-8-2003. It is the say of complainant that when he made enquiries with first opposite party he was informed that the supply was disconnected for non-payment of charges. That even though he made several requests for reconnection after informing first opposite party that his charges have been paid by Krishi Bhavan, first opposite party failed to restore the connection. Thereafter complainant filed a written petition on 19-8-2003 (Ext.A1) to the Executive Engineer, Ponnani requesting for reconnection. That on coming to know of this first opposite party behaved to the complainant in a rude manner. That the connection was not restored by opposite party. As per records it is seen that only after complainant filed this case and as per interim orders in I.A.24/04 dated, 21-01-2004 the connection was restored.
7. Refuting these allegations it is affirmed by opposite party that the reason for disconnection was not non-payment of charges. It is submitted that at the time when post shifting work was done by Sri. Rajesh, Sub Engineer, Electrical Section, Changaramkulam near the house of complainant the service wire to the agricultural supply of complainant was found in a dangerous condition. Sri.Rajesh after complaining the matter to complainant sought permission from first respondent and disconnected the supply under Sec.44(b) of the Conditions of Supply of Electrical Energy, 1990. That consumer rectified the defects and approached office for reconnection.
8. Apart from the vague affirmation in the affidavit that the supply was disconnected under Regulation 44(b) due to dangerous condition of service wire there is no other evidence adduced by opposite party to prove the reason for disconnection. Regulation 44(b) reads as under:
“The Board shall without prejudice to the rights of the Board or the provisions of the I.E. Act 1910 disconnect the supply without notice, if the installations of the consumer are in such conditions that they are likely to cause danger to life and/or loss of property.”
Though this provision enables the Board to disconnect the supply immediately without notice to the complainant, the action of disconnection taken by opposite party should be supported by necessary office records. It is the case of opposite party that Sri.Rajesh informed the matter to first opposite party and took permission to disconnect the supply. No supporting documents are produced by opposite party to prove that the service wire was noted in a dangerous condition and that permission was given to Sri.Rajesh to disconnect the supply. Further opposite party has not examined Sri.Rajesh and has neither filed his affidavit. It is true that Regulation 44( b) permits Board to disconnect supply without notice. But such provision cannot be used capriciously by an officer without supportive office records. Every action of granting connection and severing supply should find a place in office records. If officers use the provision wantonly and disconnect the supply of a consumer without notice and without stating any reason, then consumers will not only be put to great peril but will be easily victimized by high-handed officers. In our view, whenever the supply of a consumer is disconnected it should be corroborated by office records with details and reasons of disconnection. Further opposite party contends that complainant rectified the defect by himself. If a service wire was in such a condition as stated in Regulation 44(b) so dangerous to disconnect the supply then definitely complainant will not be able to rectify the defect all by himself without the help of the Board. Opposite party does not have a case that they rectified the defect. Complainant does not have a case that he rectified any defect or sought any assistance from the Board to rectify the defect. Again there are no documents to show that any such repair or rectification was done by opposite party. Opposite party ought to have prepared a mahazar/document if the service wire was found in dangerous condition and the copy of the same ought to have been handed over to the complainant. Interestingly the reason for disconnection is stated by opposite party, for the first time, in Ext.B4 which is the reply issued to complainant by first opposite party on receiving the written complaint Ext.A1. It has also to be noted that it is the contention of complainant that after Ext.A1 first opposite party developed personal grudge against him. From the evidence and materials placed before us we are able to infer that first opposite party had disconnected the supply on some wrong notion and thereafter was lethargic to the requests made by complainant for restoration of connection. When complainant moved written complaint (Ext.A1) before higher officer, first opposite party has taken refuge of Regulation 44(b) to substantiate his action of disconnection and absolve him from liability. From the above discussions we are able to reach the inescapable conclusion that the disconnection of agricultural connection No.5813 of complainant on 05-8-2003 was illegal. Illegal disconnection is deficiency in service.
9. Complainant is also aggrieved that after disconnection opposite party failed to restore connection even after repeated requests. Even after lodging Ext.A1 petition on 19-8-2003 the supply was not restored. Ext.B4 reply was issued on 15-9-2003. Only after filing this case and as per interim orders did opposite party restore the connection. The contention of opposite party in the version and para 3 of the counter affidavit is worth mentioning in this regard. It is affirmed by opposite party that complainant rectified the defects of service wire and approached office for reconnection. That because opposite party was to busy with other works and the season being monsoon, the reconnection was not provided. That because the cultivation was coconut and arecanut etc. which did not require watering in monsoon opposite party assured complainant to reconnect the supply before summer season. We are amazed at the audacity of opposite party to swear such submissions. If the supply of a consumer was disconnected under 44(b) as contended by opposite party without any notice, then it is the bounden duty of opposite party to reconnect the supply immediately on rectification of defects. Opposite party need not and should not wait for seasonal changes. It is the right of the consumer to enjoy his supply as long as he is paying charges and is entitled to use it. The connection and reconnection cannot be at the whims and fancies of the officers who man such governmental authorities. Electrical energy for agricultural connection is given to farmers in low tariff and they are further categorized into payment group and non-payment group basing upon other factors. These benefits are intended to promote agriculture and to alleviate the hardships of poor farmers. It is the further case of opposite party that the repeated request of complainant to reconnect the supply aroused suspicion in first opposite party and therefore conducted an inspection on 02-9-2003. After filing Ext.A1 petition requesting for reconnection opposite party has waited till 02-9-2003, hanging over his suspicious. We have no doubt to conclude that failure on the part of opposite party to immediately reconnect the supply when complainant rectified the defect of service wire as contended by opposite party is deficiency in service.
10. The second main grievance of the complainant is regarding the issuance of Ext.A2 (Rs.15,084/-) and Ext.A3 (Rs.1,800/-) bills. Complainant alleges that these bills are issued only due to the personal grudge that developed after Ext.A1 complaint. When complainant raised such an allegation of victimization it is necessary to examine the sequence of the events which is as follows:-
(i) On 05-8-2003 the supply as disconnected.
(ii) On 19-9-2003 Ext.A1 written petition filed before higher officer.
(iii) On 02-9-2003 inspection
(iv) On 15-9-2003 Ext.B4 written reply to Ext.A1 issued by first opposite party.
(v) On 21-9-2003 Ext.B1 counter issued by complainant to first opposite party against Ext.B4 reply.
(vi) On 29-9-2003 Ext.A2 and A3 bills issued to complainant.
It is pertinent to note that though opposite party contends to have conducted inspection on 02-9-2003 and found misuse of energy Ext.A2 and A3 bills are seen issued much later. After alleged inspection Ext.B4 reply is seen issued stating that inspection was conducted on 02-9-2003 and that opposite party detected misuse. To this Ext.B1 counter was filed by complainant stating all details about his consumption pattern and accusing opposite party of malafide and corruptive action. In Ext.B1 he has specific ally stated that such allegation of misuse is levelled against him only after Ext.A1 complaint and that it is intended to harass consumers unnecessarily. Opposite party states that complainant had send Ext.B1 by registered post. Only after receiving Ext.B1 did opposite party issue Ext.A2 and Ext.A3 bills. The sequence of events definitely indicates that the bills are issued as an after thought to make the consumer succumb and stop voicing his grievances.
11. Even then we proceed to analyse whether there is any legality in issuing Ext.A2 and A3 bills. Opposite party has relied on Ext.B3 mahazar and B5 meter reading registers to issue the above bills. It is stated in Ext.B3 that inspection of the premises was conducted on 02-9-2003 by first opposite party along with other employees of the board. Complainant contends that no such inspection was conducted and that the mahazar is a fabricated one. On perusal it is seen that Ext.B3 is not witnessed by any independent witnesses. It is not stated in Ext.B3 that complainant or his agent was present at the time of inspection. It is not seen that a copy of Ext.B3 was given or tendered to complainant. It is seen signed only by employees of the board. In Ext.B3 it is only stated that meter cover not seen. Opposite party has no case that tampering of meter was detected. Though opposite party contends that additional 3KW load was connected, this is not specifically stated to inform the complainant. The other irregularity noted is that a fuse unit was seen outside the meter board of agricultural connection. When complainant has denied Ext.B3 the absence of independent witnesses to Ext.B3 is material irregularity. Then opposite party ought to have examined any witness of Ext.B3 to prove the contents of the same. For such reasons and considering the back drop of the case we are unable to hold Ext.B3 as reliable and acceptable.
12. Admittedly the meter of agricultural connection (No.5813) and domestic connection (No.4250) were working properly. Ext.A2 bill for Rs.15,804/- is issued towards consumer No.5813 for misuse of energy from agricultural connection to domestic connection for six months. Ext.A3 bill for Rs.1,800/- is issued towards consumer No.4250 for unauthorized additional load of 3KW. Opposite party has made a comparison of the consumption pattern in agricultural connection and domestic connection and made assumptions that complainant is using energy supplied for agricultural purpose to domestic connection. It is stated that the agricultural consumption during rainy season is high and that his land is less than 30 cents and that coconut and arecanut need less water. Without any basis or logic opposite party has compared the consumption of both connections prior to 1997. It is submitted that the meter reading pattern in domestic connection would bring clear picture of misuse because after disconnection of agricultural connection the energy reading in domestic supply has steeply increased.
13. The consumption in domestic supply as shown in Ext.B5(a) is as follows:-
- Date Meter reading Consumption for one month
26-02-2002 14757 125
07-04-2002 14882 125
27-06-2002 15070 188
29-08-2002 15260 190
28-10-2002 15424 164
23-12-2002 15598 169
22-02-2003 15725 132
28-04-2003 15924 199
24-06-2003 16115 191 agricultural connection
disconnected on 05-8-03
26-08-2003 16390 275
25-10-2003 16557 167
From the readings furnished as per Ext.B5 there is no indication that after disconnection of agricultural supply the domestic consumption has steeply increased continuously. Opposite party has no case that at the time of inspection any unauthroised extensions were seen from agricultural supply to the domestic supply. It is evident that opposite party has issued Ext.A2 bill basing only on assumptions and without any proper basis. The surmises that coconut and arecanut need less water and that irrigation is not needed during rainy season can in no way be accepted. In some years the monsoon has failed and farmers need to water their cultivation. Therefore Ext.A2 bill is only to be set aside and complainant is not liable to pay the same. Ext. A3 bill is issued for unauthorised additional load. This bill is based upon Ext.B3 mahazar. There is no other evidence to show that there is additional load. The submission on behalf of opposite party is that complainant was using water heater, fridge, electric iron and therefore the connected load is higher. No consumer would use all these gadgets together continuously for 24 hours. Opposite party has no case that any new plug point was installed in the domestic connection. It is apparent, on the back ground of the facts of this case that these bills were issued only to harass the consumer. We hold that Ext.A3 bill has no legal basis and is only to be set aside. Issuance of bills without any legal basis only to harass the consumer is deficiency in service. We find opposite parties deficient in service.
14. Point (ii):-
Complainant seeks cancellation of Ext.A2 and A3 bills. This is only to be allowed as already discussed in point (i). The consumer has to be compensated for the deficiency and harassment meted by him. In our view to deal with such a situation the decision rendered by Apex Commission in Lucknow Development Authority Vs. M.K. Gupta 1993 CTJ 929 SC (CP) is aptly applicable.
- “The jurisdiction and power of the courts to indemnify a citizen for injury suffered due to abuse of power by public authorities is founded as observed by Lord Hailsham in Cassell & Co. Ltd. V. Broome, 1972, AC 1027: (1972)1 ALL ER 801 on the principle that, 'an award of exemplary damages can serve a useful purpose in vindicating the strength of law'. An ordinary citizen or a common man is hardly equipped to match the might of the State or its instrumentalities, that is provided by the rule of law. It acts as a check on arbitrary and capricious exercise of power............................................. ...A public functionary if he acts maliciously or oppressively and the exercise of power results in harassment and agony then it is not an exercise of power but its abuse. No law provides protection against it. He who is responsible for it must suffer it. ...............................Harassment of a common man by public authorities is socially abhorring and legally impermissible. It may harm him personally but the injury to society is far more grievous.”
The facts of the case reveals the victimization of a consumer at the hands of an officer who renders service in monopoly services of government owned agency. Such capricious acts should be put to a halt. Only because a consumer made a written complaint to restore connection he was served with shocking bills and had to approach this Forum to restore his connection. We consider that this is a fit case to impose punitive damages of Rs.25,000/- to the complainant which will serve to set right the quality and dignity of service rendered by opposite party. The amount so paid by the Board shall be recovered from the person who was holding office as Assistant Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board, Changaramkulam during the period 05-8-2003 till 29-9-2003.
15. In the result we allow this complaint and order the following:-
- (i) Ext.A2 and A3 bills stand cancelled. Any amount paid by complainant towards these bills shall be refunded to him.
(ii) Opposite parties shall jointly and severally to pay Rs.25,000/- as punitive damages to the complainant. The Kerala State Electricity Board is at liberty to realise the amount so paid from the person who was working as Assistant Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board, Changaramkulam during the period from 05-8-2003 till 29-9-2003.
(iii) Opposite parties shall also pay jointly and severally cost of Rs.2,500/- to the complainant.
(iv) The time limit for compliance of this order is fixed as two months from the date of this receipt of copy of this order.
Dated this 20th day of March, 2009.