Power theft: Govt decides to amend law

The government has decided to amend Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) Act 1860 with a view to nabbing consumers allegedly involved in electricity theft through an order of a court on the application of not below grade 17 officer.

However, the amendment is being opposed by parliamentarians on grounds that with this amendment the government intends to hide its poor performance and protect corrupt elements by shifting responsibility on consumers.

In 2020-21 Discos’ inefficiencies have increased by over 28 per cent – to Rs 54 billion from Rs 42 billion in 2019-20; and Discos recoveries stood at Rs 74 billion in 2020-21.

The World Bank, in its recent report, observed that power sector has long been a liability on the economy, providing insufficient services and building up large sector deficits. Poor planning, implementation bottlenecks, and limited access to financing have created long periods of load-shedding for electricity consumers. Inadequate choice of power generation technology and inefficiencies in distribution have resulted in high costs of electricity damaging Pakistan’s competitiveness. Financial deficits with power sector State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) have been building up as successive governments have not passed on the full cost of power to consumers.

Power Division, in its arguments in favour of amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code Act XLV of 1860, states that power sector has been facing a situation whereby recoveries affected by the Distribution Companies (Discos) from consumers are insufficient and inadequate to meet the cost of generated electricity. As a result, GoP has to provide subsidy, especially to those Discos where leakage, pilferage and theft are rampant. Primarily, this phenomenon emanates from a fragile legal and enforcement structure. Resultantly, the conviction rate of such offences is very low.

The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) offences are either cognizable by Police (which means arrest can be made by Police without warrant) or by court (which implies that a complaint has to be filed before the court, which then decides whether or not to allow the Police to investigate and arrest). This amendment was made through the Criminal Law (amendment) Ordinance, 2013 and then promulgated in 2014. According to the Power Division, the law as it stood has an anomaly, where through amendment to the schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code, the offences relating to electricity were made cognizable by the Police, but section 462-O then ordained that such offences are cognizable by the court alone.

Power Division further argues that since the main Act prevails over the schedule, the Courts had held that direct FIRs by the Discos i.e. without first making a complaint to the court, which in this case is the Sessions Court, were void and arrests made by Police were unlawful.

Further, Power Division maintains that if the police are given unfettered powers to make it cognizable, it would simply create another excuse for police to harass consumers, adding that there is thus an urgent need to rectify the present situation. Hence, the proposed draft amendment makes the offences cognizable by police, but only if the ‘information’ is provided to the Police by grade 17 officer of the Government or the Disco in writing.

According to the amendment proposed in the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLC of 1860) for section 462-(O), the following shall be substituted:- the offences punishable under the Chapter shall be cognizable but the Police shall not take cognizance of an offence under this Chapter “except where information of such offence is provided to the Police in writing by a duly authorized officer (not below grade 17) of the government or by an officer of an equivalent grade of a distribution licence as the case may be”.

The National Assembly Standing on Power will consider the proposed amendments in PPC in its forthcoming meeting.

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