The Supreme Court recently directed an Assistant Investigation Officer of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) as well as the CEB to pay compensation to the tune of Rs. 1.1 million to a resident of Dikhena, Pitigala for having violated his Fundamental Rights by levelling false charges against him of tapping electricity illegally as well as for soliciting a bribe to drop these charges.
The Court directed that petitioner G. Sunil Seneviratne be paid Rs. 725,000 by the CEB official who was the first Respondent in the case while the 6th Respondent – the CEB was asked to pay Rs. 400,000. The State was directed to pay an additional sum of Rs. 25,000. The Court also directed that all payments be paid within four month of the date of the judgment.
The case was heard before Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, PC, Sisira J De Abrew and Anil Goonaratne and was decided on 12 December 2016.
The Court in its judgment reprimanded the CEB saying that the “CEB owes a greater duty of care to its consumers as they have no one to turn to when it comes to the supply of electricity”.
“The manner in which the consumer was treated in this instance is regrettable,” the Court said.
It also held that while the CEB has every right to take action against illegal tapping of electricity or any other act obnoxious to the provisions of the relevant Act but it was the bounden duty of the CEB to put in place a mechanism so as to provide a smooth and efficient service wherein complaints are promptly attended to without discrimination and consumers who are not at fault are not harassed or subject to duress.
“The CEB is a State organ and a public utility that produces and supply electrical energy. Electrical energy in the present context, is indispensable for human life and the society would be put to severe hardships if these services are not made available. The large-scale production of the said source of energy and the supply of the same is the virtual monopoly of the CEB save for the limited role played by LECO (Lanka Electricity Company). Any deficiency in service, would lead to severe hardships on the society. To provide a service to all consumers without any discrimination and to provide safe and adequate service in a timely manner are the recognized duties of a public utility,” the Court held.
The Petitioner in this case is a businessman who ran a hotel and was also engaged in selling furniture in Pitigala which, in the middle of the night on 9 June 2012, was gutted in a fire. Following this he had informed the Electricity Board and according to his petition, he had told the official who answered the phone about the destruction and damage caused to the electricity meter by the fire and requested that steps be taken to restore the supply of electricity.
The response he received from the official who answered the phone had been to re-fix the “cut out” and use power if electricity was available up to the meter and that their responsibility is only to supply electricity up to the meter. Following the CEB official’s advice, the petitioner had re-fixed the “cut out” and continued to use the power.
However, nine days after the fire, the 1st Respondent accompanied by two Police officers (8th and 9th Respondents) had visited him, and accused the petitioner of tapping electricity illegally and told the Petitioner that if he pleaded guilty to the charge he would ensure that the Petitioner got off, on payment of a nominal fine. The CEB official had also demanded Rs. 100,000 to be paid to him by a particular date, failing which he would take steps to disconnect the other three meters fixed in the premises owned by the petitioner.
Upon pleading guilty to the charges, he was fined Rs. 10,000 and was directed to pay a further sum of Rs. 351,010 as the loss caused to the State by the Magistrate’s Court. A few days later, the 1st Respondent had come to the petitioner’s business premises and demanded Rs. 100,000 which the petitioner had refused to pay as he had already paid a fine to Court.
The 1st Respondent then had left the premises, only to return a few hours later accompanied again by two Police officers and a few others from the CEB and intimated to the Petitioner that they had come to disconnect the other three meters as well, and had challenged the Petitioner to do whatever he could.
The counsel for the Petitioner said that the act of disconnecting the supply of electricity was illegal and was done maliciously and for no other reason. The Counsel said the petitioner had to face numerous hardships due to the loss of power supply and he had to engage a generator by paying Rs. 15,000 per day, to carry on his business activities. Counsel also submitted the petitioner had pleaded guilty to the charges against him in the Magistrate’s Court, under duress.
Harsha Fernando with Ruwan Weerasinghe appeared for the petitioner instructed by K.V. Lal Shantha. Senior state counsel Varunika Hettige appeared for respondents.