Despite the government’s pledge to install 20 million household prepaid electricity meters by 2021 to help curb system loss, theft, and to improve services and the energy-saving attitude of consumers, the latter are facing difficulties in purchasing meters.
Electricity consumers have no other choice but to buy the meters from some authorised agencies and companies, as the electronic gadget is not available in the open market, leading to the situation.
Moreover, there are also reports of the consumers facing harassment while trying to buy prepaid recharge cards for their meters, due to low availability.
The consumers living in a rented house are paying an additional Tk40 as monthly meter fare, which was actually supposed to be charged from the landlords.
A Power Division official, preferring anonymity, said six power distribution agencies and companies have already replaced more than 700,000 postpaid meters with the prepaid ones, with the consumers being charged monthly for the services rendered.
“Several measures have been taken to minimise consumers’ sufferings and upgrade service quality. Upon their full implementation, the ongoing situation will improve,” he hoped.
On May 7, 2017, the Power Division, following an order by the president, formulated a unified policy for all power distribution agencies and companies.
As per the policy, the consumers are paying Tk40 for single phase prepaid meters and Tk250 for three-phase meters each in monthly instalments, alongside the energy bill [for units used], demand charge and VAT.
But, they are not being informed about the price of the replaced meters, and the total cost is being added to the monthly bill in instalments.
Interestingly, they are not even getting back their postpaid meters, replaced by the prepaid ones, despite having previously paid for those.
How to apply for meters
There are currently two procedures to apply for new electricity connections using post-paid meters. The first method is that the consumer will buy a meter from any electronics outlet and get it verified from by the power distribution agencies or companies.
In the other method, a consumer has to buy the meters from straight from any of the agencies or companies, for which the consumer is to pay monthly instalments.
But, the second method is being followed for the prepaid meters, with the Power Division considering introducing the first method in this case.
The Power Division, however, is yet to allow any private company to sell prepaid meters.
Meanwhile, the replacement procedure of the meters is drawing much dissatisfaction and anger from the consumers, as the distribution agencies and companies are charging them for a second time with additional fees linked to meter price and instalments.
A number of residential consumers in Dhaka said if the prepaid meters were sold at retail outlets, it would have been helpful for both the consumers and the distribution agencies and companies.
Additional charges and the deposit issue
The electricity providers are extracting the money along with the consumption bill from the consumers staying in rented homes, but which was supposed to be paid by their landlords.
Md Asif Islam, a tenant living in Azimpur, Dhaka, said against every recharge, an electricity provider deducts Tk40 as meter rent, which was supposed to be paid by the house owner.
Before introducing the prepaid meter, he did not have to pay that extra amount.
The consumers, who paid for their postpaid meters, demanded that the meters be returned to them.
On November 23, 2017, the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) directed the distribution agencies and companies to refund the deposit of the consumers who had their prepaid meters replaced. But, most of the agencies and companies could not reach a consensus on how to do that as yet.
The BERC directive clearly states that the consumers applying for a new connection will not have to pay a deposit for meters and those who replace their postpaid meters with the prepaid ones will get their deposit back.
The energy regulatory body also added that consumers, who are able to purchase their meter at a one-time cost, must not be charged monthly instalments.
Measures taken to address consumers’ problems
A committee, headed by Power Development Board (PDB) General Manager (commercial operation) Engineer Md Kawsar Amir Ali, has been formed to take the consumers’ complaints into cognizance and further improve the service.
The committee has already finalised a report upon data collected from power distribution agencies, companies and consumers.
The PDB high-up said: “A number of recommendations have been made, including the instalment of more vending machines, to provide the consumers with more quality service.”
What officials say
Dhaka Power Distribution Company Managing Director Engineer Bikash Dewan said: “Implementation of the prepaid meter system has already curbed system loss and improved services significantly. We hope to bring 300,000 more consumers under the prepaid system in the current fiscal year.”
He stated that the prepaid system completely block any attempt made to tamper with the meters, including electricity pilferage.
Talking about consumer complaints, he said they were trying to sort out the problems.
“Aside from banks, the consumers are recharging the electricity meters anywhere, just the way they have their mobile balance recharged,” Bikash said.
He stated that any consumer will be able to enjoy uninterrupted power supply even if the balance in his or her meter ends during their weekends or any public or bank holiday, a feature which he termed “happy hour” facility.
On the other hand, Amir Ali, the PDB general manager, said the committee, formed to resolve the problems, will recommend that the meters taken from the consumers be returned to them.
“We are also working to help the actual consumers get back their deposit as well,” he added.
The power distribution companies have been asked to take steps regarding the matter as soon as possible and the committee is also trying to fix the prepaid meter prices, he said.
Meantime, Mohammad Hossain, director general of Power Cell, said: “We have plans to bring 20,000,000 consumers under the prepaid system by 2021.”