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Electricity Board illegally disconnected electricity line as stay was granted by Redressal Forum: SC

The SC on April 27, 2020 {BIHAR STATE ELECTRICITY BOARD v. M/S ICEBERG INDUSTRIES LTD. AND OTHERS} upheld the HC (DB) finding that the initial disconnection itself being illegal, the Board does not have the authority to charge any Annual Minimum Guarantee (AMG) and Delayed Payment Surcharge (DPS) not only for that period but also for each and every subsequent period of illegal disconnection also, because it failed to revise the bills.

It was further held by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice Deepak Gupta &  Justice Aniruddha Bose, that here comes the question as to whether it was permissible on the part of the Board to disconnect the supply of the company in spite of the order of stay granted by the Forum. It was held by the SC that it accepts the finding of the Division Bench on that count i.e. disconnection was illegal. Board could not have had ignored the directive of a statutory forum and imported their own perception of what was legal to proceed against a consumer. 

In the present case, three issues emerged before the SC : the first one is whether the company could have invoked the Redressal Forum’s jurisdiction over the dispute pertaining to AMG and DPS including the question of disconnection in terms of Section 56 of the Act; the second issue is as to whether, after receiving a representation seeking instalment payment, supply to consumer could be disconnected without dealing with such representation; the third issue is as to whether AMG was payable by the company for the entire period during which supply to the consumer remain disconnected. All three questions were answered in favour of consumer (respondent) and against the Electricity Board by the SC.

It was held by the SC that it must point out here that before the Appeal Bench the counsel for the Board had acknowledged Forum’s jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute raised before it. It was held that even if it proceeds on the basis that concession on law made before a judicial forum against whose decision SC is hearing these appeals would not bind a party to such concession, it does not find anything in law which barred the Redressal Forum from adjudicating the dispute.

It was lastly held that so far as the subject controversy is concerned, there is no dispute on obligation of the respondent company to pay the AMG charges, at least so far as first bill is concerned. It was held that its representation for instalment was in the nature of a mercy plea. It was observed that going by that factor alone, the SC might not have had accepted the finding of the High Court that the consumer did not neglect to pay so as to warrant the disconnection provision contained in Section 56 of the Act. It was held that in respect of respondent company, eventually instalment was granted subsequent to the period of disconnection. It was therefore held that once that plea for instalment payment was accepted and agreement was entered into for clearing the dues, it demonstrated willingness to pay on the part of the company of the dues in a manner acceptable to the appellant Board. It was held that such plea of the company was accepted after keeping the matter pending for a long time. It was held that in such circumstances,  the High Court was right in giving its finding that the act of disconnection on 8th September 2006 was arbitrary. It was held because of these reasons the SC does not want to disturb the finding of the Courts below.

The appeals filed by the Board were accordingly dismissed. The judgment of the Division Bench of the Patna High Court was sustained by the SC.

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