The issue concerning the electricity bills received by many electricity consumers with exorbitant amounts levied by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Lanka Electricity Company (LECO) for the recent curfew period has not been resolved yet.
When this issue cropped up last month, the LECO circulated a note among the consumers stating that “The bill for the month of May is calculated based on actual reading taken by the revenue officer visiting your premises. The two other bills are estimated bills calculated based on your average consumption of the past six months. However, once the actual reading is taken and uploaded to the system by the revenue officer for the month of May, the LECO billing system will automatically perform a correction, based on the calculative consumption for the total meter unread period. The correction will be shown in your June bill accordingly.”
It is not clear on what ground the CEB and LECO authorities thought that the electricity consumption in March and April should be as same as that of the previous months and the consumption in May should be different. An islandwide curfew was imposed on March 20, and since then almost all members of all families were confined to their homes with the “work from home” system too having been in place. And the temperature during the curfew period was high due to the sun being directly over the latitudes of Sri Lanka between April 5 and 15.
Therefore one has to agree that the surge in electricity and water consumption since March 20 until around end of May. Yet, if the increase during those two and-a-half months is added to the consumption of May alone, surely the bill would show an incredible usage of power by the consumer.
This would not be a problem if the calculation of amounts payable is simple with each unit of electricity is charged a uniform rate. However, the billing system of the NWSDB, CEB and the LECO is very complicated. The rates are calculated on what they call the “incremental block tariff basis.” Blocks indicate the level of consumption of electricity and the rate of a unit of electricity of a higher block is higher than that of a lower block. For instance, the unit rate of the lowest block is Rs. 7.50 while that of the fifth block is Rs. 45.00. Once the increased consumption of all three months is put together in the May bill, it is obvious why the consumers received a bill with an incredible amount.
The unit ceilings are also vary in different bills, with it being 60 in some bills while 62 or 64 in some others. The second block ceiling in some bills is 90 while in others it is either 92 or 94. A fixed charge is also levied from the consumer each month and it also differs from Rs. 90 to various amounts (Rs.480 in some bills and Rs. 540 in some others). Therefore it is clear that an ordinary consumer has to take great pains to understand his/her electricity bill.
As promised, the CEB and the LECO had sent amended charges for the months of April and May separately printing on the Bill for the month of June. But the rectification was such that many consumers had to pay more than what they had to pay earlier for those two months. Thus the number of complaints about unfair electricity charges had exceeded Rs. 200,000, according to one newspaper report.
Despite the two power providers still justifying their calculations, government seems to have realized that something had gone wrong with the preparation of the bills for the “Covid period.” Therefore, following a cabinet decision, authorities first announced that 25% of the charges would be reduced from the bills for the months of March, April and May, if the consumption is less than 90 units. It is clear that a handful of consumers would be eligible for this relief as the consumption during the period was more than 90 units in most households.
The government appointed a five-member committee to look into the matter and the committee in turn handed over its report to the Cabinet on July 8. The recommendations of it have been sent to the Treasury, according to power and Energy Minister Mahinda Amaraweera.
Meanwhile, the minister also said that government has allocated Rs. 500 million to provide relief to the electricity consumers. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa too on Saturday said during an election rally at Noope in Matara that he had recommended to the Cabinet to reduce the charges for the three months in question by another 30%, apart from the 25% that had been announced earlier.
Authorities must prepare a simpler method to calculate the bills, not only taking into account the revenue of the two power providers but also protecting the rights of the consumers, especially those underprivileged.