The Kerala State Electricity Board Limited has trained its guns on serviced apartments and apartments that function as guest houses but pay electricity charges at domestic rates. The Kerala Water Authority and the Kochi corporation have also decided to take them to task for paying water charges and building tax applicable to consumers under domestic category.
On Monday, the vigilance wing of KSEB conducted a drive against 'power theft' and booked owners of 15 individual flats in two apartment complexes at Kadavanthra, which were being used as guest houses or serviced apartments providing the best of facilities. The board has slapped a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the flat owners.
KSEB officials said around 15 individual flats in two buildings of Kaippally apartment complex have been leased out to Engineers India Ltd, which carries out extension work of BPCL Kochi Refinery. "On behalf of owners of the individual apartments, a person has entered into a one-year lease agreement with them for Rs 72 lakh per year. The firm used it as their guest house. They are using residential connection though their electricity connection should have been under commercial category," said Vincent Abraham, assistant executive engineer, anti-power theft squad, Kochi.
"The three-room apartments have facilities similar to star hotels," he said. "Last month, we booked a similar case where residential flats in Hoysala Apartments were found to have been used for lodging purposes. We slapped a fine of Rs 5 lakh on them," Vincent said.
KSEB has also received information regarding other apartments being used as serviced apartments or guest houses. In most cases, the owners are NRIs. "In Kochi, changing flats into guest houses or service apartments appear to be a trend. We have decided to target them," a KSEB official said. "We have got information that many tour operators from north India use residential flats to accommodate tourists or as transit points for tourists to travel to other parts of the country," the official said.
Meanwhile, KWA also carried out surprise checks at Kaippilly apartment on Monday. "We have asked the apartment owners to change their connection from domestic to non-domestic," said Sidique, assistant executive engineer and head of non-revenue water management (NRWM) wing of KWA. "In similar cases identified before, we changed the category to non-domestic," he said. Unfortunately, KWA is unable to slap a fine on the offenders as its employees who record the meter reading failed to identify it and change the category at the time of inspection.
Kochi corporation also stands to lose as the building tax is higher if the premises are used for commercial purposes. "The corporation had a special squad which is now defunct. The building tax collected by the corporation from residential buildings is in the range of Rs 20- Rs 60 per square metre compared to Rs 60- Rs 120 in case of commercial use. The tax varies based on factors including access to district roads, state and national highways," said M P Mahesh Kumar, councillor, Kochi corporation. "Though we brought the issue to the notice of authorities, they did nothing," he said. Corporation officials said they would initiate action against such fraudulent practices.