Damini, an all-women vigilance squad set up by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) to keep a watch on billing irregularities, meter tampering and power theft, has been able to help the state power utility recover Rs 15.68 crore in the last three years.
Of the 11,157 electricity meters identified by MSEDCL as likely to have irregular billing, Damini found discrepancies in 7,690 and helped recover Rs 15.68 crore, according to Nishikant Raut, publicity relations officer of MSEDL.
The most notorious for suspect billing was the Ganeshkhind circle, from where nearly Rs 4 crore has been recovered in the last three years.
Varsha Gaikwad, in-charge of Damini squad for Pune, says several housing societies actually welcome their visits to check meters. “This connect with consumers helps us understand their issues related to energy bills. Women of our squad discharge their duties without any difficulty. If we sense any trouble during our visits to homes to check meters, we call our security guards,” she says.
Four squads, each comprising two-three women, were set up in 2010 for Rasta Peth, Ganeshkhind, Pune Rural and Baramati circles of the MSEDCL following complaints from consumers about incorrect meter readings and delay in receiving bills, says Ramrao Munde, Chief Engineer of MSEDCL’s Pune zone. At present, billing-related work, including recording meter readings, taking digital photographs of the readings and distribution of bills, has been outsourced to various agencies.
There are at least 23 lakh MSEDCL consumers in Pune and the power utility earns a revenue of Rs 800 crore a month.
After reports of widespread irregularities, Damini squads decided to check the list from the IT department of MSEDCL that registered the maximum number of complaints against individuals or firms. Accordingly, weekly visits are conducted by the teams in their areas. So far, Ganeshkhind circle, which comprises four divisions of Kothrud, Shivajinagar, Pimpri and Bhosari, has been able to take action against 3,500 consumers in the last three years.
Squad halts work at Rasta Peth for want of a vehicle Damini squad in Rasta Peth circle has halted work for the last two months due to lack of a vehicle. The MSEDCL has promised to look into the issue soon.
According to Mridula Shivade, an assistant engineer and member of Damini, at least Rs 20-25 lakh is recovered on an average every year in Rasta Peth circle. There have been instances where the staff of these private agencies are hand-in-glove with consumers and tamper the meter readings so that the consumers get bills for less than their actual energy consumption, MSEDCL authorities said.
In rural areas, people alarmed by armed guards with squads Rupali Chittawar, a member of Damini squad in Pune Rural circle, says people in rural areas get a little alarmed at times when they see an armed security guard escorting the team. “We are often asked why there is a gunman with us,” she says, adding that they have to ask the guard them to stay at a distance. “These are far-flung areas like Nusrapur, Velha, Alephata and tribal areas in Ghodegaon and Manchar. An entire day is spent travelling to the interiors and checking the meters. So the authorities have decided to provide us with an armed guard,” she says, adding that the annual recovery in the circle is around Rs 9 lakh.