PESHAWAR - Besides high inflation and price-hike, Pakistan is also confronted with the monster challenge of electricity theft, which is adversely affecting agriculture, the economy, and industrial and domestic consumers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The electricity theft either through direct hocks or tempering of meters has not only widened the demand-supply gap of electricity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also had negative effects on business and agriculture activities besides affecting educational institutes and hospitals in remote and far-flung areas such as Bannu, D I Khan, Lakki Marwat and rural Peshawar due to kunda culture.
“Electricity is a social as well as an economic crime that is not only hampering the national economy but also has a negative effect on the agriculture production and industries’ exports,” said Zilakat Malik, former chairman, of the Economics Department, University of Peshawar while talking to APP on Monday.
He said the energy theft techniques including meters tempering, direct hooks (illegal connections) from transmission lines, physical destruction of energy meters/poles, and fake billing are causing instability in prices of perishable and non-perishable goods in open markets due to shortfall in agriculture and industrial produce besides increase power’s circular debts.
Besides Pakistan, he said that about 102 countries in the world were confronted with the grave problem of energy theft due to poor electricity infrastructure, political and economic uncertainty, corruption, and the kunda mafia.
Citing reports, he said that electricity worth Rs380 billion had been stolen including Rs200 billion through direct hooks during 2022-23, and warned of Rs520 billion predicted electricity losses during the current fiscal year if decisive action has not been taken against black sheep in power distribution companies and big electricity thieves.
Dr Zilakat Malik said the past governments had increased tariffs in a bid to bring the level of power debt down while the real cause of circular debt is electricity theft and line losses. He said this speaks volumes about poor policy planning of the past successive regimes and the tendency to burden honest consumers for the crime committed by others, who go scot-free as theft takes place allegedly in connivance with staff of power distribution companies.
“The excessive load-shedding has made our life miserable,” said Misal Khan, a retired information officer of Pabbi tehsil Nowshera district while talking to APP. “After every two hours, there is one hour of load-shedding in my village besides low voltage affecting law-abiding consumers,” he said.
He called for the use of the Whistleblower Act and the launching of a wide-scale public awareness campaign for the prevention of power theft and bill recovery. For this purpose, loudspeakers, and display awareness banners in streets, mohallas, markets, and union council level may be used besides the utilization of digital technology, social media platforms, TV channels, and newspapers.
Usman Islam, spokesman of PESCO, said that as per government directives, a grand operation against electricity stealers has been started across the province where thousands of illegal hooks were removed besides the imposition of millions of fines.
“We have adopted zero tolerance against power thieves, and cases against the accused were being registered after receiving complaints from SDO and field staff with the help of police and district administration,” he said.
PESCO has launched the special anti-theft campaign after the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s task force on power decided about a large-scale crackdown on the people involved in stealing electricity including “big fish and influential mafia.”
The lists of factories, hotels, commercial plazas, wedding halls, shopping malls, shops, and illegal housing societies involved in power theft have also been prepared for the crackdown. “Like banks, shops, and houses robberies, electricity theft was also a serious crime that should be hated by society,” he said, adding besides three to seven years of rigorous imprisonment, a fine of Rs10 million or both could be imposed against electricity thieves.