India/Assam: Converting profit hungry APDCL to consumer friendly



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by Nava Thakuria      18 April 2023

After days of public uproar across Assam in northeast India, the State
electricity management came out with a number of clarifications.
Firstly, it asserted that the conversion of metering equipment (from
postpaid to prepaid) does not increase the energy loads for a
consumer. Secondly, the issue of higher charges against the
electricity consumption by a household will be resolved within a few
weeks. Thirdly, any complaint from the consumers will be entertained
promptly. The household consumers in various localities recently came
to the streets drawing attention of Assam Power Distribution Company
Limited (APDCL), a division of the State-run electricity board, about
their unusually high electricity bills which was observed after
shifting to the prepaid smart billing meters. The hike was significant
(sometimes up to 50%) and lately a forum of graduate engineers also
urged APDCL to clarify its stand over the public grievances.

“The process of changing conventional electro-mechanical meters (with
a rotating aluminum disc) to electronic (digital/smart) meters with an
LCD or LED display must not record more energy consumption (to
increase the monthly bills) at any cost,” asserted All Assam
Engineer’s Association (AAEA) with an appeal to the APDCL management
to simplify the guidelines for domestic consumers and make people
aware of those rules. The APDCL authority has revealed that the
installed smart prepaid smart meters don’t lead to an increase in
electricity bills. The company through its official social media
account stated, “In case of smart prepaid meters, no extra charge is
levied and existing tariff rates are applicable. However, in order to
allay the concern of the consumers, we have made provision to install
check meters alongside the smart meter to compare consumption of both

Insisting that the smart meters provide the consumers an insight on
daily consumption which should help them use electricity judiciously
as per their needs. The consumers can now monitor their daily
electricity consumption by installing the mobile app ‘myBijulee’ and
if necessary, they can send queries or complaints through the app, its
website ( or even call at helpline number 1912. State
chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also responded to the public
grievances and directed the APDCL to set up a control room for public

The smart prepayment meter, which has been used by a number of
countries across the world, functions under a computer program with
international standards and it helps the management to have accurate
and reliable information for managing the electricity consumption and
demands in its territory. The new technology also helps reduce
collective energy loss. It works like a prepaid cell phone connection
or a DTH (for viewing television channels), where the consumers
actually buy their required energy units in advance and once the
balance amount turns zero, the power supply gets automatically cut
off.  In India, one unit of electricity is calibrated with one
kilowatt hour (meaning energy consumed by the appliances totaling 1000
watts for one hour). The balance amount of a consumer keeps reducing
after consumption of every unit of energy. Before the amount turns
zero, the consumers have to recharge accordingly. For an emergency or
in some occasions, they can use the emergency credits.

“The cost of a prepaid electricity meter may be higher than the
conventional one, but the APDCL should not put burdens on consumers
for the conversion. APDCL is a profit-making enterprise of the
government and hence it should consider supplying electricity to the
poor families in remote areas with some concessions,” said AAEA
president Kailash Sarma, adding that the household consumers should
use more LED bulbs and be careful while operating heavy energy
appliances like electric irons, dyers, heaters, induction cookers,
micro-ovens, air conditioners etc.

Mentionable is that India is the third largest producer of electricity
in the world mostly depending on fossil fuels (coal and gas). The
government is now looking aggressively for alternate (renewable)
energy sources to feed the billion-plus nation. The country has
witnessed a visible increase in per capita electricity consumption in
recent years and its single day peak demand is expected to rise up to
230 gigawatt very soon. Notably, the electricity tariff in India
remains moderate even though higher than that of Iran, Sudan, Libya,
Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Egypt, Burma, Cuba, Ghana, Laos,
Argentina, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka,
Malaysia, Bangladesh and Russia (in ascending order).

India is followed by Georgia, UAE, Vietnam, China, Sierra Leone,
Cameroon, Turkey, Belarus, South Korea, Ecuador, Taiwan, Indonesia,
Botswana, Tanzania, Mexico, Jordan, Hungary, Morocco, Canada,
Thailand, Mozambique, Mauritius, Norway, Bulgaria, Malta, Iceland,
Maldives, Cambodia, Colombia, South Africa, Uganda, Costa Rica,
Israel, Kenya, Brazil, Senegal, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Romania, USA,
Philippines, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Slovakia,
France, Honduras, Switzerland, Rwanda, Peru, Australia, Singapore,
Uruguay, Japan, Barbados, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Latvia,
Jamaica, Sweden, Spain, UK, Finland, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium,
Germany, Italy, Denmark (at the top) with higher energy prices.

Assam with over 33 million population depends on energy supplied by
external agencies. The demand during the peak hour (5-10 pm) is
estimated to be around 1,700 megawatt, where Assam Power Generation
Corporation Limited produces only 260 megawatt. Out of over 5.5
million subscribers in the State, domestic consumers include about 5.2
million. Even though the APDCL terms the prepaid method of collecting
fees against the energy consumed in a household as very simple, it has
not spared the consumers from paying the monthly fixed charges. It
argues that the charge is necessary to keep the electricity network
connection comprising a large number of poles with wires and
transformers across the State and the essential services in place. So
even if a consumer does not use a single unit of electricity for
months, he/she has to pay the monthly fixed charge.

Now the question that arises here is, if the APDCL authority enjoys
the power to restrict one’s electricity supply after non-payment of
bills immediately, why not the consumer also gets the liberty to use
the supply as and when needed? Should not it be irrational if the
matter of essential household power connection in India is considered?
Why doesn’t the authority evolve a formula to reduce the fixed charge
(if possible, make it zero) for those families, who prefer installing
rooftop solar energy units for their daily consumption of energy?
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been consistently supporting
the mission, why should the APDCL emerge as a discouraging agency for
those families in their initiative to adopt green energy!

The writer is a professional journalist based in Guwahati who
completed his graduation course from Assam Engineering College three
decades back