Assessing Officer Must be Part of Inspection Team in Electricity Theft Cases

The Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta, in the case of Umashankar Gupta v. CESC Limited and Others, 2024 SCC OnLine Cal 1522, held on February 13, 2024, that the Assessing Officer-IV under the Electricity Act, 2003, is required to be a part of the inspection team to personally assess if any offense has been committed.

In the instant case, electric supply to a “Dal Mill” was halted, and a provisional assessment was passed by the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) after a CESC inspection team found that the Mill was illegally consuming electricity. The Mill owner challenged the assessment order through a Writ Petition (WP) in the Hon’ble Coordinate Bench of the Calcutta High Court, which directed the CESC to remove the meters and submit a report after examining them. The report was adverse, and an FIR was filed under the Electricity Act, 2003, for electricity theft.

The petitioner subsequently filed multiple WPs to quash the FIR, which were dismissed and later a final assessment order was issued. The petitioner appealed the final assessment before the Appellate Authority, which was dismissed. Aggrieved, the petitioner filed the present WP to challenge the dismissal order of the Appellate Authority and to invalidate the provisional and final assessment.

The Court, relying on the binding decision rendered in West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. v. Jadavpur Tea Company Ltd., (2011) 4 CHN 204 (Cal), stated that the assessing officer must be a member of the inspection team at the time of inspection, to assess in person the offence committed, and not through papers submitted to him. Since it was difficult for the court to assess the factual aspect of the presence of the assessing officer, the court set aside the order of the Appellate Court and remanded the case back, to be reassessed to identify whether the Assessing Officer-IV was a part of the inspection team and if not, whether the provisional and final assessments made were valid considering the case.