Punjab: Power theft dents exchequer by Rs 1,800 cr a year : The Tribune India

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Punjab: Power theft dents exchequer by Rs 1,800 cr a year

The Tribune’s deep dive into the power crisis in the state — Part IV

Punjab: Power theft dents exchequer by Rs 1,800 cr a year

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Tribune News Service

Aman Sood

Patiala, June 21

A few months back, the management of a dera in a border district was caught stealing power. When a team of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) officials went to check the “illegal connection”, it was threatened.

23 govt depts on defaulter list, owe Rs 3,607cr

Unpaid bills

  • Not only residents, but the government is also at the wrong side of the law. Information reveals that 23 departments have failed to pay Rs 3,607 crore to the PSPCL despite many reminders.
  • “We cannot even disconnect their connections as many departments are providing emergency services. Disconnecting connections will only trouble residents”, said a govt functionary.

CHALLENGES

  • Kundi connections/bypassing of meters lead to theft of 2,620 million units amounting to Rs 1,800 crore
  • Resistance to installation of smart meters
  • Resistance to shifting of meters outside premises
  • Resistance to replacement of 2.35 lakh electro-mechanical meters
  • Nexus of politicians, farm unions and unscrupulous PSPCL staff

Anti-theft teams heckled

Our officers, who are out in the field to check power theft, are heckled, locked for hours and even threatened to be transferred or implicated in false cases. In many cases, villagers are found stealing power openly and when our teams enter the village, they are stopped and manhandled. — Ajay Pal Singh Atwal, General Secretary, PSEB Engineers association

Bills pending against depts till April 2024

Local Bodies Department Rs 1,468 cr

Rural Development Department Rs 1,925 cr

Health and Family Welfare Department Rs 136 cr

Home Affairs and Justice Department Rs 26 cr

School Education Department Rs 15 cr

Again, at a village in Tarn Taran, a ruling party supporter was found using a kundi connection. When a PSPCL team visited the village, some local leaders and farmer union members stopped the team from taking action.

In many villages of Bathinda, Faridkot, Patti and Jalandhar, where there are the maximum beneficiaries of the free power scheme, underground wires are laid only to steal power.

There are thousands of such cases in Punjab where ghost consumers steal power, despite using 300 units of free power every month, causing a loss to the public exchequer. In most cases, political parties do not allow action against their “core members”. In 2015-16, the loss due to power theft amounted to Rs 1,200 crore, but the data shows that the figure has now touched Rs 1,830 cr.

Despite availing free power benefits at the behest of successive governments, the greed for “more free power” continues to burden the state government and honest tax payers. The data collected from the PSPCL shows that Rs 1,800 crore of power is stolen every year by consumers, in which villages have the lion’s share of over Rs 1500 crore.

Tarn Taran’s Patti division is running into Rs 133 cr loss per annum, followed closely by Ferozepur’s Zira division Rs 131 crore, Bhikhiwind Rs 129 crore, Amritsar west Rs 94 cr and Jalalabad accounts for Rs 87 crore.

“Our officers who are out in the field to check power theft are heckled, locked for hours and even threatened to be transferred or implicated in false cases. In many cases, villagers are found stealing power openly and when our teams enter the village, they are stopped and, by that time, the defaulters take off kundis”, said Ajay Pal Singh Atwal, general secretary, PSEB Engineers Association. A former chief engineer with the PSPCL said: “The shifting of meters, from inside houses to poles, is not being allowed. Even the move to change electro-mechanical meters with electronic ones is resisted”, he said.

“In certain pockets, some associations collect monthly Rs 500 to allow power theft and any check by PSPCL teams is opposed by residents, including women”, he added.

“Thousands of consumers resort to power theft to keep their bi-monthly reading below 600 units. Besides, power theft is a way of life in the border zone,” said a top PSPCL official. “Many villages are getting supply from feeders where the transmission loss is 90 per cent. A majority of consumers is involved in stealing power despite 300 units of free power from the government”, he said.

Power theft during summers is at its peak. In many theft-porne areas, where losses are over 50 per cent, hundreds of agricultural motors are running on 24-hour supply feeders under the protection of local politicians and farmer unions.

“Theft-prone areas are already identified and in public domain, but ultimately it is the government’s will to curtail losses and save honest tax payer from paying more due to the stolen power”, said a PSPCL senior officer.

Officials say that thousands of consumers do not declare their actual power load and continue to avail benefits, causing power outages.

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

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