LAHORE - Power distribution companies of the country, especially the Mepco and Lesco, have done massive overbilling for the month of May, overburdening thousands of consumers with millions of rupees ahead of Ramazan.

Sources told The Nation the inflated bills were sent to the consumers by the Discos (distribution companies) to cover the electricity theft and line losses before entering the new financial year. The bills for the June would be even more inflated, they added.

Some representatives of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad said that hundreds of consumers from dozens of villages contacted them and informed about massive overbilling by the Mepco.

The Multan Electric Power Company is the largest distribution company of PEPCO. Its area of operation comprises 13 districts of southern Punjab.

Mian Umair, a central leader of the Ittehad said that Mianchannu tehsil was worst hit by the Mepco overbilling where almost every third or fourth consumer received inflated bill for the month of May. He said thousands of consumers in Sahiwal, Minchanabad, Haroonabad and Rajanpur areas too received hefty bills.

Umair shared copies of the electricity bills with this scribe showing that some agriculture consumers were overbilled as much as Rs900,000 in excess and some domestic consumers who usually pay around Rs1,500 per month received Rs6,000 bill for May.

“Almost 70 percent villagers of the Mepco sub division-II of Mianchannu received bills which do not match with their meter readings. Consumers visit company office in the city from far flung areas in scorching heat for redressal of their grievances but the SDOs don’t pay any heed to their problems. Being mostly illiterate and simple, the villagers even could not match their meter readings with the bills. They request the SDOs for installments which too are refused. They even have to face a general mistreatment by the power company officials,” he said.

According to some other sources, officials of the electricity distribution companies are not only sending higher bills to power consumers in the agricultural sector but are also taking bribe from them for making correction.

It is unfortunate that officials demand bribe from the consumers who are making regular payments instead of taking action against those involved in power theft, a farmer said.

The situation in the limits of Lesco (Lahore Electric Supply Company) is even worse where massive overbilling has not stopped despite repeated claims of the Water and Power Ministry of addressing this issue. The consumers of Kasur and Patoki, Sheikhupura and some sub-divisions of Lahore city, especially those living in areas of Thokar Niaz Beg, Samanabad and Raiwind, were hit hard by overbilling.

This scribe visited different sub-divisions and found dozens of consumers in the queues in front of the SDOs offices for correction of their bills. Around 500 consumers visit Lesco head office alone daily for correction of bills.

Interestingly, Water and Power Minister Abid Sher Ali officially has admitted Rs6 billion overbilling in the Lesco alone. Sources say the situation was even worse in Mepco and other Discos.

On the other hand, the government made repeated claims of controlling this menace but overbilling has in fact worsened over time.

Some officials in background discussions opined that overbilling could not be stopped in the Discos without controlling power theft which is mostly committed in connivance with the companies’ staff. They cite shortage of meter readers another reason behind the overbilling and admit that about 40 percent billing was taking place in a presumptive manner because of the staff shortage.

A recent analysis conducted by government by evaluating about 150,000 consumers’ data across 10 distribution companies of the country (Lesco, Gepco, Fesco, Lesco, Mepco, Pesco, Tesco, Qesco, Sepco, Hesco) found massive presumptive billing and overcharging.

Talking to the media on May 26 at Lesco headquarters, Shair Ali said an inquiry was being launched against officials involved in overbilling. “After the inquiry, their cases will be handed over to the NAB,” he said. The promise is yet to be fulfilled.

A departmental inquiry had been initiated in June 2014 also but no action was taken against the officials involved. Failure to comply with the recommendations and directions given by the authorities had resulted in the huge unpaid bills.