KERC Rejects BCCL Plea, But Penalises KSEB For Tardy Billing

Highlights :

  • The categorisation of Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd, Times of India Group, as a commercial consumer is correct as its media offices do not carry out ‘printing activities’, said the commission.
  • Kerala State Electricity Board Limited’s arrear bill towards BCCL is quashed but a new one can be prepared to recover the amount it is owed by the media conglomerate, said KERC.
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In an order that should set a useful precedent for the law of limitation, as far as claims go, the Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) has issued an order favouring Kerala State Electricity Board Limited (KSEB Ltd), which had charged Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd, or the Times of India Group (BCCL) with HT IV – Commercial tariff. The commission has, however, quashed the arrears bill of Rs 32,40,602 that KSEB had calculated for the period since 2014, and asked KSEB Ltd to issue a new bill to collect the amount it is owed.

The case started with BCCL submitting a petition in March this year, claiming that the 2014 Tariff Circular categorizes printing presses, including presses engaged in printing dailies as LT IV (A) Industrial and does not categorize them under HT Commercial or HT Industrial. Even while admitting that it only does pre-press activities at its address, while actual printing is done at another media firm’s presses.

The Mumbai-based media conglomerate requested the commission to grant it the applicability of the lower cost industrial tariff for its media services (pre-press activities) and to waive the retrospective demand charges slapped on it by KSEB Ltd. for the period between 2014 to 2020 after the state electricity board revised the tariff category for BCCL from ‘industrial’ to ‘commercial’ following its new agreement.

The petitioner wished to be exempted from being considered a commercial consumer and instead be extended the benefits that an industrial consumer is entitled to, which have been effectual since August 2014. This would save the company Rs 32,40,602 in demand charges which were raised by KSEB Ltd. in April last year.

KSEB Ltd submitted to the commission that the printing of the newspaper is not carried out at the media offices and is outsourced to a different press located at Mathrubhumi Printing & Publishing Co Ltd. Thus, offices in which ‘no printing activity’ has been carried out in the same premise, are not eligible for industrial tariff.

After careful consideration of the facts of the case, the commission concluded that the tariff applicable to the petitioner consumer from the date of connection (December 2011) will be HT IV – Commercial and the tariff fixed by KSEB Ltd. in the new agreement will be considered correct and in order.

BCCL and similar industries can raise their concern regarding the tariff categorization, if any, during the tariff determination process for finalizing the tariff for the next 5 year control period (2022-2027), said KERC.

The commission, however, quashed the arrear bill of Rs. 32,40,602 issued to BCCL and asked KSEB Ltd. to issue a new demand notice/ supplementary bill to the petitioner for collecting the arrear for the revision of tariff, limiting the prior period to two years from 02/2020, without any penal charges. BCCL should remit the revised amount within the next 30 days of issue of the demand without fail, said KERC. In ding this, the commission stuck to various rulings, including a Supreme Court judgement that limits such claims on arrears to a maximum of two years, to prevent misuse by firms sitting over their claims. To that extent, it’s not really the outcome KSEB would have wished for too. While BCCL has managed to get its wishes fulfilled for at least a 5 year period before 2020 effectively, by paying what in effect will be industrial costs only.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.