LAHORE - The Lahore Electric Supply Company has failed to implement mobile meter reading project despite spending millions of rupees on it, thus continuing with its practice of sending inflated electricity bills to thousands of its consumers every month, it has been learnt.

Lesco BoD Chairman Dr Musadak Malik who is also spokesman for the prime minister is a great advocate of bringing reforms in the power distribution company, but seemed helpless when The Nation contacted him to get input on the issue. He, however, expressed his resolve to introduce transparency in the billing system gradually.

“The BoD can give recommendations for reforms, but their implementation is the job of the administration,” he said.

Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif, State Minister Abid Sher Ali and top administration of the Lesco have made repeated claims to eliminate overbilling in the company, but the ground situation is totally different.

Sources said the Lesco has distribution android mobiles among meter readers by spending Rs 90 million on the project in June 2015. The meter readers were directed to take snaps of the units and the pictures were supposed to be printed at electricity bills to ensure accuracy. The practice, however, could not be adopted at any subdivision despite lapse of months, they added.

The company’s chief engineer, Mujahid Islam, had claimed in an interview with The Nation on September 2015 that the mobile meter reading system will be introduced in all 163 subdivisions of the company within a month. “The snapshot system will remove consumers’ complaints about overbilling. We are working on war-footing basis on the project,” he had said.

There are reports that the project of the Ministry of Water and Power to print reading pictures on bills is also nonfunctional at other power distribution companies of the country.

Sources said overbilling occurs in connivance with the management in power distribution companies, including Lesco, and they indulge in this practice to make up for the system losses. As per some internal reports of the Water and Power Ministry, all Discos, including Lesco, are charging 35 extra days to consumers every year through wrong cycle of meter reading and billing, forcing the common people to pay for over 13 months instead of 12 months of a year.

“The accuracy in bills will expose the actual electricity losses in Lesco which are around 30 percent,” the sources said. The Lesco officially claims 12 percent losses in its limits. They said the main reason behind the reluctance to implement the mobile reading project was fear of top management about exposure of its inability to control the electricity theft in the company’s limits.

Initially, this project had been started in Samanabad division. Later, this practice was stopped for unknown reasons. The meter readers were directed to take snap of the meter through their phones and send it to Lesco’s IT Department which through integrated system will print the picture on electricity bills. The consumers were supposed to match the snap’s reading with their meter reading and lodge a complaint in case of fault.

Malik said: “We are taking action and have placed many officials under suspension on overbilling complaints. We are also launching an SMS system along with snaps of reading to address the issue.” He said the Lesco BoD approved the launching of a website where consumers will be able to see the actual reading of their meters and all other related information.

“The specially developed website would contain all information and relevant data about loadshedding, power supply ratio and revenue collection on all the subdivisions and feeders of the Lesco. The website would not only prove helpful for the company’s officers concerned but also for the consumers. Website’s server would be linked directly with 11KV smart meters without having any human interference, thus making the web information and data more effective and credible,” he explained and added the site would help in controlling overbilling.

Meanwhile, a meter reader told The Nation that they cannot take pictures of meters as low-standard basic mobile phones had been provided to them, which lacked basic features of photography.

“Some meters are installed on poles, while some are inside buildings and when readers take a picture under the sun, it blurs, and when they take it indoor, it is unrecognizable due to darkness,” he claimed and requested not to be quoted.

Lesco covers Lahore, Sheikhupura, Okara and Kasur. In Lahore alone, about 100,000 consumers add up to its network every year. Lesco officials claim the number of company customers receiving inflated bills was negligible.