Electricity theft: a social crime hampering economy, agri production

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.