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If a licensee discovers in the course of audit or otherwise that a consumer has been short billed, the licensee is certainly entitled to raise a demand.: Supreme Court

So long as the consumer does not dispute the correctness of the claim made by the licensee that there was short assessment, it is not open to the consumer to claim that there was any deficiency as held by the Hon’ble Court through the bench lead by Justice V. Ramasubramanian, in the case of M/S Prem Cottex v. Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Ltd. & Ors. (CIVIL APPEAL NO.7235 OF 2009).

The brief facts of the case are the Appellant is carrying on the business of manufacturing cotton yarn in Panipat, Haryana. He is having an L.S. connection, which got extended from 404.517 KW to 765 KW with C.D 449 KVA to 850 KVA, on 3.08.2006. After 3 years of the grant of extension, the appellant was served with a memo dated 11.09.2009, claiming that though the multiply factor is 10, it was wrongly recorded in the bills for the period from 3.08.2006 to 8/09 as 5 and that as a consequence there was short billing to the tune of Rs.1,35,06,585/.

Aggrieved by the said notice, the appellant filed a consumer complaint before the National Commission, contending inter alia that the demand made by the respondents is the outcome of a glaring mistake and gross negligence on their part and that under Section 56 of the Electricity Act, 2003, no amount due from a customer is recoverable after a period of two years from the date on which it became first due. By an Order dated 1.10.2009, the National Commission dismissed the complaint on the ground that it is a case of “escaped assessment” and not a case of “deficiency in service”. Aggrieved by the said Order, the appellant is before the Hon’ble Court.

The Hon’ble Court on 13.11.2009 granted an interim stay on the order and following on 19.08.2014, modified the stay by directing the appellant to pay to the first respondent herein, 50% of the demand amount within six weeks with a condition that in case the appellant succeeded, the said amount shall be refunded with interest @ 9% p.a.

After a careful reading and examination of Section 56 of the Electricity Act, 2003 and the cases of Assistant Engineer (D1), Ajmer Vidyut Vitran Nigam limited and Anr. vs. Rahamatullah Khan and Mahabir Kishore & Ors. vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Hon’ble Court held, “So long as the consumer does not dispute the correctness of the claim made by the licensee that there was short assessment, it is not open to the consumer to claim that there was any deficiency. This is why, the National Commission, in the impugned order correctly points out that it is a case of “escaped assessment” and not “deficiency in service”. We are of the view that the National Commission was justified in rejecting the complaint and we find no reason to interfere with the Order of the National Commission. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed. However, since the appellant has already paid 50% of the demand amount pursuant to an interim order passed by this Court on 19.08.2014, we give eight weeks’ time to the appellant to make payment of the balance amount.”

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Judgment reviewed by Vandana Ragwani

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