PESHAWAR, TUESDAY, 29 NOVEMBER 2011: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and farmers have accumulated over Rs400 million arrears as the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) charged their tubewells less tariff over the last few years than the one approved in February 2007.
A senior officer of the provincial government told Dawn on Friday that the anomaly was detected by an internal audit team of Pesco in December 2010 saying the Pesco had been charging the agriculture and irrigation tube wells in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for a long period.
The official said Pesco had begun recovering the arrears by adjusting them in monthly bills issued to the provincial government departments and farmers to their misery. He said the act had serious financial implications for the departments and farmers alike.
The provincial irrigation department, according to one of its superintendent engineers, own and operate over 350 irrigation tubewells and 606 tube wells installed as part of salinity control and rehabilitation projects in Mardan and Swabi. Besides, the provincial agriculture department, too, has thousands of tubewells.
Similarly, there are more than 14,000 tube wells privately owned by farmers in arid areas of the province. Many farmers own tubewells in places not covered by the canal irrigation system, including parts of Peshawar, Nowshera, Dir, Swat, Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, and Lakki Marwat districts.
Altaf Hussain, a Dir farmer, criticised Pesco over the move, saying “sky has fallen on us after receiving power bills with thousands of rupees worth of arrears.” He said he had been asked to pay Rs35,000 arrears but he was unable to do so.
According to the officials, Pesco didn’t charge the tubewell owners the new tariff ‘by mistake’ after its notification by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) on February 24, 2007. Later, the provincial government challenged the Nepra move in the Peshawar High Court, which stayed the charging of the new tariff in September 2008.A provincial finance manager said the Pesco’s ‘mistake of not applying the new tariff from February 2007’ valued more than Rs400 million, adding that the company had not yet calculated the arrears of all 25 districts of the province. He said initially, Pesco had shown Rs186 million under the head.An official of the provincial Energy Monitoring Cell, which is working closely with Pesco staff to reconcile the provincial departments’ monthly electricity bills, said the government had raised the issue with the Nepra.
He said the government’s complaint lodged with Nepra’s Consumers Affairs Division in February 2009 was turned down on technical grounds.
According to a KP government document seen by Dawn, Nepra declared in its decision that “the Auditor’s interpretations with respect to the application of Agriculture Tariff is in accordance with the notified Terms & Conditions and hence the Complainant’s request to refrain it (Pesco) from applying Tariff D-1 (a) is not valid.”
According to the Nepra’s new tariff revised in February 2007, an EMC official said, the D-1 (a) tariff was applicable to SCARP tube wells that involved less than 2- KW electricity load.
He further said those consumers (farmers), who had sanctioned electricity load up to 20 kilowatts, were liable to be billed on ‘single-part KW per hour rate’ by applying D-1 (a) tariff given in the Schedule of Tariff.
“Prior to the introduction of the new tariff, there used to be two separate tariffs for the agriculture and irrigation tube wells,” said the official, adding that the new tariff was quite higher than the old ones.
The EMC official said the matter was discussed at the highest level in the province following which the government moved the Consumers Affairs Division of the Nepra yet again.
“We filed the review application because we feel the Nepra should give us a full hearing as the tariff applied is neither justified nor legally covered,” said the finance manager.
The official said the power tariff meant for SCARP tube wells couldn’t be applied to non-SCARP tube wells owned and operated by the provincial irrigation and agriculture departments. The tariff meant for SCARP tube wells was 50 percent higher than the one applied to non-SCARP tube wells, he added.
The relevant official document says: “Instead of penalising Pesco for not following Nepra’s repeated directives to rectify the situation, the Authority rejected the KP government’s complaints on technical grounds.”
The EMC official said the government had written to the senior advisor/director, Consumers Affairs Division, Nepra, saying, “the government as well as private consumers are not in a position to bear the additional financial burden (on account of arrears) nor has Pesco the right to recover these charges.”