Recovery of fuel surcharge: Lesco’s second attempt stokes up violence

LescoLAHORE: Violent protests broke out at some places in the city on Wednesday against “fuel adjustment charges” in electricity bills that have virtually tripled the bills, but there was no casualty or major damage to property.

The Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) has been recovering fuel adjustment charges from its consumers for two months and doing so in one go; making life difficult for the already hard-pressed consumers and stoking up violence.

Last month, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) allowed the distribution companies to recover fuel adjustment charges for June and July at the rate of Rs1.036 and Rs2.042 per unit, respectively. The distribution companies were supposed to recover these charges during October and November. However, the Lesco slapped these charges on most of its consumers during November, making things doubly difficult for them.

To make the matter worse, once the people took to the streets and started converging on Lesco offices, the officials, fearing violence, quickly removed fuel adjustment charges from bills. In December, all these charges, however, reappeared, tripling the bills.

Protests broke out at Kot Lakhpat, Saidpur and Defence, where people gathered to denounce the inclusion of fuel adjustment charges in their bills. Though there were reports of the lower staff still removing fuel adjustment charges from bills for the fear of retribution, Lesco insisted in a press release that the charges were final and consumers had to pay these. “These charges have been finalised by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and there is no escape,” says an official of the company.

Explaining company’s position, Customer Services Director Khalid Mehmood said the Lesco had nothing to do with the charges, which had been finalised by the Nepra and allowed by the Ministry of Water and Power, casting distribution companies in the role of collectors. Thus, these charges have to be recovered unless the federal government allows otherwise.

“This is insensitivity of the highest degree,” says Muhammad Ramzan, a protesting shopkeeper of the Defence area. If the Nepra has asked the distribution companies to recover these charges in two installments, how come they are doing it in one go? Last month they removed these charges, saying that the court has issued a stay order. That court order is still intact and they are charging again. Someone has to be held answerable for mismanagement of the whole affair, he said.

“The Nepra determined the ruthless charges, the federal government allowed these with complete insensitivity to people’s plight and the collector completely mismanaged the collection. The hapless consumers are now expected to bear the brunt of all their acts of omission and commission. Someone should be listening to consumers. If the government thinks it can recover the charges this month peacefully that it could not last month, it is mistaken. The charges are too exorbitant to be paid without protest and people will pay exactly the way they should.”
– Dawn