Employees of the cash strapped Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL) once again were shell-shocked by their Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) who waived off Rs.1.74 crores from the bill of a factory in Byrnihat for meter tampering and power theft and then also withdrew the FIR filed by his junior officials before the full amount was paid.
Not only that, the concerned officials who were following standing orders since 2014 by takings steps to recover energy charges and filing FIR were transferred out of their posts, said MeECL workers.
This case pertaining to the Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd, Byrnihat, has been the nub of discussion since January 15 this year when Byrhinat based Meghalaya Power Distribution Corporation Limited (MePDCL) vigilance engineers on inspection discovered meter tampering and power theft in the meters of the factory.
After assessing the matter, the official disconnected the power supply to the Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd and served a compensation bill of Rs. Rs 3,48,69,143. The company was served with this notice and bill on January 18.
After this notice, the Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd management paid Rs 1 crore on January 21 following which the power supply was restored on the stipulation that the company pay the balance amount in installments.
Sources said that on January 22, the Assistant Executive Engineer, MeECL (Vigilance) Byrnihat division was asked by top officials in MeECL to withdraw the FIR against Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd which he did in a letter to the officer-in-charge of the Byrnihat Police Outpost wherein he said that he was withdrawing the case as the company had agreed to pay the amount of compensation as assessed by the competent authority.
As the vigilance man on the ground, his post is recognised as the ‘competent authority’ in such matters of power theft assessment, say insiders. How then can the head of the corporate (MeECL) interfere with the workings of employees whose work falls under the Electricity Act by asking the Assistant Executive Engineer to withdraw the FIR even before the full payment was made, asked some of their colleagues.
The law officer of the MeECL also noted that the FIR could be withdrawn as Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd had agreed to pay the assessed amount and that legally there is no bar to withdraw the FIR as the theft of electricity is a compoundable offence in nature.
But sources stressed that any case of power theft has to be paid in full as per the bill as this is the amount for energy consumed for which the distributor and supplier will have to be compensated in full. The company if aggrieved could go ahead and an appeal to the commission or the appellate authority. But MeECL sources said that Sai Prakash Alloys Private Ltd had not done this.
Surprisingly on January 21, the CMD of MeECL, Arun Kumar Kembhavi gave his approval for the waiver of 50 per cent of the more than Rs 3.48 which was billed.
The question being asked is whether the CMD of the MeECL is an appellate authority to waive off served bills in this manner? Does he have the authority to do so? Did the Sai Prakash Alloy Private Ltd seek waiver from the office of the CMD?
Knowledgeable sources said that the CMD of MeECL (Kembhavi) might have some power to waive off the amount of interest accrued on an energy bill, but would have no authority to waive off any percentage of the bill for consumption of energy.
Sai Prakash Alloys Private Limited is yet to pay up the rest of the amount till date.
Meanwhile, it was shocking for the MeECL’s employees that the officials from the vigilance department were transferred from their posts after this incident.
“We don’t know why they were transferred but we can surmise that it’s because of this case,” said a source.
Even more curious, according to MeECL sources, is the fact that Kembhavi visited the Byrnihat Industrial area on January 26 and he allegedly went about breaking open the meter seals of some factories. Here too questions arise as to whether he is authorised under the Electricity Act to break open the power meter seals, asked some workers.
One of the workers said that after this visit, the CMD had reportedly “discovered” many irregularities in meters and power consumption.
Some newspapers reported that Kembhavi had accused his MeECL workers of being in cahoots with the industrialists in unauthorised consumption of electricity for decades. Observers felt that all this has always been suspected by the people at large and welcomed his decision to do a full investigation into these suspicions.
“But if he is concerned about the heavy leakage of revenue from power thefts, what then is the reason for waiving off these assessed power thefts,?” many still wonder. “Why is he waiving off crores of rupees of industrial defaulters and those indulged in power thefts, while forcing poor consumers to pay their full amount of default of few thousand rupees, asked another.