They persisted with what is right and have saved scores of Bengaluru’s apartment associations lakhs of rupees in 2011. Arathi Manay Yajaman, 40, and O P Ramaswamy, 64, of JP Nagar challenged BESCOM’s levy of penalties on their apartment complex and, despite being pushed around initially, won their case. BESCOM had penalised their apartment complex in August last year for not taking into account the building’s fire safety equipment (pumps) as part of sanctioned electrical load.
On January 12th, the Brigade Millennium Mayflower block residents association, represented by Arathi, received a letter from BESCOM, which in effect said BESCOM was taking back the demand for penalties and higher charges. The 22-acre Brigade Millennium complex in J P Nagar VII Phase houses 5 residential towers including Mayflower, apart from other amenities.
As a result of the victory, multistorey buildings in Bengaluru with fire safety equipment are now saved the worry of having their power disconnected over BESCOM’s ‘unauthorised load’ claim.
BESCOM’s notices on ‘unauthorised load’
This saga began in August 2010, when BESCOM sent a notice to Brigade Millennium (BM) residents associations. In its notice to Mayflower Block, BESCOM said that while their sanctioned load was 99.47kW, they had connected a load of 177.85kW. They had thus connected an excess or ‘unauthorised load’ of 78.38kW, claimed BESCOM.
BM was not being singled out. Similar notices sent around the city to apartment complexes with multistorey buildings. On BM’s Mayflower block alone, BESCOM imposed Rs 29,484/- as back billing penalties. In addition, BESCOM added monthly penalty charges of Rs 4680/- until the unauthorised load was either removed or extra sanctioned load was obtained.
This is where Arathi Yajaman and O P Ramaswamy, both past presidents of BM’s Mayflower Block residents association stepped in. They found out that excess load claimed by BESCOM was actually the power needed to run the fire hydrant pumps (statutory requirement for high rises) that come into play during emergencies only. This amounted to about 90KW. (Arathi and Ramasamy are also trustees of Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust.)
The Brigade Group, builder of the complex confirmed the residents’ finding, but declined to intervene directly with BESCOM in the matter. Brigade noted that the fire safety equipment is kept on standby only and is not a part of the day-to-day regular power requirements of the buildings. Brigade also pointed out that the in the event of a fire, lifts and other electrical equipment are switched off. The fire pumps themselves are all never operational at the same time.
Also, during any fire accident all the power utilities need to be shut down as a measure of safety. Therefore the issue of all the equipment being used ‘simultaneously’ and thereby exceeding the sanctioned load, did not arise. Based on this, Arathi and Ramasamy concluded that the usage of fire hydrant pumps was not ‘unauthorised’ load as claimed by BESCOM.
However despite filing written objections with BESCOM and meeting a subdivisional engineer, the latter did not accept BM residents’ explanations. BESCOM continued to impose penalties in monthly bills instead. BM residents, like those in apartments around the city were a worried lot. Merely because the notices were from the government-run electricity supplier, the associations decided to start paying the penalties to avoid disconnection, and did so in protest, says Arathi.
The residents also started preparing to file applications for increased load, which Arathi estimates would have amounted to Rs.1 lakh for the Mayflower block. Not surprisingly, the worries had spread around many areas where BESCOM’s notices were received. "I had already started getting calls from worried residents of Sobha Tulip and Brigade Gardenia complexes nearby who had received the same notices", says Arathi.
Arathi then wrote to BESCOM Managing Director, IAS Officer P Manivannan, 38, who had taken over in October. Manivannan issued an internal circular asking his officials to look into Arathi’s complaint. Despite a fresh visit by BESCOM engineers to the complex, nothing changed and penalties remained on the bills. BM’s block residents associations continued to pay in protest fearing disconnection of power supply.
But Arathi and Ramaswamy did not relent. They took the matter up with the state’s power regulator, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). It is the appeals authority for citizens against BESCOM decisions.
Arathi wrote to the KERC on December 13th pointing out the issue with BESCOM’s definition of ‘connected load’ and faulty interpretation by including fire safety equipment in calculation of ‘connected load’ by BESCOM. Arathi and Ramaswamy had also researched rules in other states in preparing their case. "Other ESCOMs (like Maharashtra, Kerala) have clear definitions of ‘connected load’, among other terms. They have also made provisions in their regulations, for excluding load arising due to fire safety equipment…", they wrote in their letter to KERC.
The KERC sent BESCOM a notice on 24th December asking the latter to look into Arathi’s complaint. BESCOM revised its position and sent its letter to Arathi on January 12th. Since the fire safety equipment would not be used regularly, it should not be considered as excess load, acknowledges the letter, bring much awaited relief to residents. "This subject was discussed in the weekly meeting and by the concurrence of all the members, it was decided that though the fire extinguishers were connected to the electricity, the load must not be taken into account while calculating arrears", says the BESCOM letter (translated from Kannada).
A General Manager (Commercial) at BESCOM, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to speak to the press, confirmed that the revision had since been communicated to all Executive Engineers at the divisions.
Victory for the city at large
With this verdict, all multistorey buildings with fire fighting equipment that received the original penalty notices from BESCOM can rest. In an action to set things right for their own apartment complex, Arathi and Ramaswamy set the problem right in one stroke for all of the city.
In doing so, they also set right a related problem that would have come up, had BESCOM been able impose its original decision. Thousands of multstorey buidings in the city would have had to apply to increase their sanctioned load. Based on this, BESCOM would have likely projected a far higher power demand for Bangalore than was the reality.
So are the apartment associations that paid penalties going to get their money back? Yes, says BESCOM. An Assistant Executive Engineer at BESCOM though adds that the refunds may not be made immediately, as the paperwork involved will take some time to get approved.