Background & Rationale:
24×7 Power for All (24×7 PFA), a joint initiative of the Government of India (GoI) and the State Governments aim to provide 24X7 reliable electricity access to all households, industrial, commercial and all other electricity consuming entities by the end of Financial Year 2019. To live up to the expectations the power utilities of West Bengal, with support from the state government, has added nearly 80 lacs consumers over the past four years . While the utilities as well as the government are taking initiatives to electrify all the villages as well as the households, there have been several challenges towards the successful implementation of the same. The national scheme of rural electrification aims at providing basic infrastructural facilities such as distribution transformer and distribution lines in the inhabited locality in addition to electrifying public schools, panchayat offices, health centres, Dispensaries, Community centres etc. A village will be deemed electrified if in addition to meeting the above criteria, at least 10% of the total numbers of households in the village are electrified. However, this would mean that, there would be several households which could remain un-electrified. Thus, the power supply utilities have taken up intensive electrification of villages, which aims at providing access to electricity to the left out un-electrified households in an electrified village.
In West Bengal, there are about 138.13 lacs rural households, of which 1.28 lacs households are still un-electrified (as on 30 April, 2017) . A state wise summary of the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), indicates that while 5 villages of West Bengal are un-electrified till date, intensive electrification of 270 villages are still to be done. In addition to this, 2,73,990 BPL households have no access to electricity (as on 30 April, 2017) . Despite that fact that the Power Distribution Companies (DISCOMs) are taking significant measures to provide electricity access to all, supplying quality and reliable power has been a major challenge for many of them. While the last mile consumers are often discontented over the quality, availability and reliability of the power supplied to them, the DISCOMs also face issues relating to commercial losses and lack of awareness amongst the end consumers. This has often led to strenuous relationship between the service provider and the end consumer.
Consumers often suffer from lack of awareness pertaining to the presence of forums and processes which can help get their grievances redressed. The Annual Report 2015-16 of the West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBERC), highlights that, the Ombudsmen had received 9,100 grievance cases against the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) till 2014-15 (from June 2004). In 2015-16, the total cases of grievance filed with the Ombudsmen in West Bengal were 354 . Majorly the cases narrate the grievances of the consumers pertained to incorrect electricity bills, disconnection without observing procedural formalities, overcharging for new connection, non-functioning of meters, delay in proving services, delay in giving new connection, and other miscellaneous issues. However, it is often felt by experts that, the total numbers of grievance cases being filed in West Bengal are not reflective enough of the amount and volume of grievance, which the end-consumers have. This might be due to the lack of awareness among the grass roots consumers.
In this context, CUTS International and WBERC perceived it to be important to engage with the grass roots consumers and build their capacities on their rights and responsibilities as electricity consumers, laid down in the Electricity Act, 2003 and the relevant regulations framed by the Commission. CUTS International and WBERC have jointly initiated the programme titled, ‘Consumer Awareness programme for improvement of overall standard of performance in the Distribution sector in two districts of West Bengal’ (CAPSOPI), which aims at organizing 240 grass roots stakeholders meetings in the districts of Jalpaiguri and South 24 Parganas, to improve the knowledge and capacity of grassroots consumers on conventional and non-conventional electricity.