Clients of Power Development Board in Sylhet city have been hit with wholesale overbilling this month.
They blame tremendous mismanagement by officials and corruption by metre-readers for the situation.
The aggrieved power consumers filed complaints to the PDB offices, staged demonstrations in the city and submitted memoranda to prime minister Sheikh Hasina, through local administration, seeking her urgent intervention on the issue of unusually high bills, said residents in and around the city.
The PDB authorities had to ask for police deployment in the offices last week to avoid any unwanted situation created by the clients who continued to visit the offices for lodging complaints against overbilling, sources in the PDB regional office said.
Abdus Shahid, of village Farhadpur on the outskirts of the city, alleged that he was handed a bill of Tk 52,000 this month, whereas he received a bill of Tk 1,300 in August.
Talking to New Age, Abul Khayer Khan, of Pirojpur at Dakkhin Surma in the city, claimed that he had been paying a monthly bill of Tk 500 to Tk 800 for the past 10 years. ‘The metre-reader, who also delivers the monthly bill, handed my wife a bill of Tk 16,000 this month,’ Khayer alleged, adding that almost every residence owners in his area were delivered such ghost bills this month.
Samiya Sultana, of Chamelibagh at Tultikar on the outskirts of the city, said that they had seen the monthly bill to jump from Tk 2,036 to Tk 19,500 this month. ‘Why should we suffer for the mismanagement of the PDB? The board should take the responsibility for issuing ghost bills,’ she said.
Saiful Haque, a PDB metre-reader of Bangabir Road in the city’s Dakkhin Surma, told New Age that he was unaware of the incidents of wholesale overbilling. ‘Senior officials can explain the matter,’ he said, adding that they collected actual reading of the electricity metres visiting door to door.
PDB Sylhet regional office chief executive engineer Ratan Kumar Biswas told New Age that the Power Division had appointed private firm Munshi Engineering Associates six months back to collect metre-readings and deliver the bills to the consumers.
‘The company recruited people from outside the Sylhet region, who made bills based on their assumptions due to their inability to visit most of the households as they did not know the area,’ Biswas said, adding that the company sacked over 100 employees last month for not discharging their duties properly.
Biswas said that in August, the Sylhet PDB, as part of the government’s digitalisation programme, started producing bills by taking snaps of the metre-reading, instead of recording the reading in writing.
He described the new system as positive as the PDB employees must go to the premise to take a snap of the metre-reading. ‘There is no scope to prepare a false bill now,’ he said.
‘But, the massive bills this month have been a result of the piled-up units which were not previously taken into account,’ Biswas added.
He said on Thursday that the clients, who were handed massive bills, would be given the opportunity to pay in instalments.
Sachetan Nagarik Committee district president Aziz Ahmad Selim, however, said that the failure to produce accurate bills in time was itself a serious irregularity. ‘The irresponsibility of PDB metre-readers should not be put on the clients’ shoulders,’ he remarked.
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