Vadodara residents complain of ‘overcharging’ prepaid smart meters

For the second day in a row, the offices of Madhya Gujarat Vij Corporation Limited (MGVCL) in Vadodara witnessed stormy scenes as consumers from the Fatehgunj area protested the installation of smart meters at their homes with some complaining that the power supply was snapped due to “non-recharge”. A few residents also complained of indiscriminate deduction of the prepaid amount, with the amount going into negative balance in some cases.

While the power discom has clarified that the outstanding amount from the old meter has been added to the newly installed smart meter and deducted together, the residents accused MGVCL of installing the new devices without educating them about its functioning. Meanwhile, the issue also took a political turn with the INDIA bloc announcing an agitation from Thursday.

According to Fatehgunj resident Manhar Rajput, who led Wednesday’s agitation at the local GEB sub-station, said hundreds of homes have been without electricity. “The smart meters have snapped because they have not recharged their balance… There has been no explanation on the process or how it works. Those who managed to recharge on the smart app have lost the entire balance in a matter of hours, going into negative balance and leading to disconnection,” he complained. Terming the pre-paid smart meters a “new way of corruption”, he demanded the reinstallation of the old meters.

Another Fatehgunj resident, requesting anonymity, said he had recharged the smart meter with Rs 8,000 — an estimated bill to last two months in summer. But the balance reduced drastically within a week, he complained. “I have raised the complaint with the GEB, but they have no answers. We have been told that the meters are being installed by a private company and the officials have no information about it.”

Nimesh Shirke, a resident of old city, said he had recharged the smart meter for Rs 2,000 and the balance came down to minus (-)Rs 240 within 12 hours. In the Padra, Atladara and Bil areas where the meters have been installed mostly in government housing schemes, residents stated that they had no access to smartphones and were unable to track the consumption and recharge options from the app.

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Notably, Wednesday’s protests came a day after an Akota resident’s public claim that the prepaid amount of Rs 2,000 was “consumed” within a week after installing the smart meter.

However, MGVCL Managing Director Tejas Parmar told The Indian Express that after a detailed inquiry by the company into the claim, it was found that from May 2 — when the smart meter was installed at his residence — until May 14, only Rs 836 was deducted by the smart meter against the consumption of up to 12 units of power per day. “We have records to show that the claim is not correct as the total amount charged is only Rs 836… The smart meters are prepaid meters that need to be recharged with an estimated balance as per the consumer’s regular bill amount,” he said.

The smart meter app has been programmed to remind consumers on four occasions to recharge their account. The power is disconnected once the balance touches minus (-)Rs 300.

MGVCL, which has installed 25,000 smart meters in Vadodara city so far, also stated it had conducted a consumer outreach to explain the process of the smart meters and even handed out pamphlets to the consumers for understanding of the tariff.

Parmar added that it was a misunderstanding that the meters were overcharging. “The way of recording the units is the same for smart meters and the old meters. The only difference is that the old meters stored the usage information in their memory that was read by readers at the end of the billing cycle (which is of two months for residential meters), while the new smart meters can communicate and update the usage every half an hour and deduct the usage tariff on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, the INDIA bloc partners termed it ‘tughlaqi’ (tyrannical) the BJP-ruled government’s decision to mandate installation of smart electric meters. Addressing the media on Wednesday, Vadodara City Congress President Rutvij Joshi alleged that the pilot project of the smart meters has been set up in housing colonies of the economically backward people. He said the Congress, AAP and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) will submit a memorandum to the District Collector against “this new system of corruption where thousands of rupees are being charged on a daily basis”.

“The citizens are reeling under the pressure of inflation and the government has introduced a new scheme to loot the people in the name of smart electric meters that is going to charge Rs 4.29 per unit as against the charge of Rs 2.79 per unit of the old meters… the moment the elections were complete, they began installing smart meters,” Joshi said.

Parmar, however, denied that the tariff of per unit consumption has been revised. “There is no increase in the tariff or additional units by way of the smart meter. It is a prepaid system that will also take into account the outstanding balance for the period of days from the last bill cycle on the old meter… We call it the Final Outstanding Amount (FOA), which also has to be cleared by the customer. We had decided to add FOA to the daily installments on the smart meter for 180 days to lessen the burden of the customer. But now, we have received suggestions that we should allow customers to pay the outstanding amount before adding it to the smart meters,” he explained.

“After a new installation, it would take about seven days for the FOA to be calculated. Also, the security deposit that the customer has paid to MGVCL will be adjusted in the account balance,” Parmar said.