Plan against power theft

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PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday, in principle, accorded approval to the Power Division’s proposed plan to cope with electricity theft of Rs380-400 billion annually through policing to enforce writ of electricity distribution companies (Discos) and outsourcing of electricity bills collection to private sector.

He chaired a meeting, which considered power and petroleum sector issues such as gas crisis and load management.

Large-scale theft and default on payment of electricity bills are among the root causes of the unending crisis in the power sector and the satisfactory resolution of these problems could bring about a visible change in the sector.

However, the proposal being considered by the government is unexpected to yield the desired results and might end up in further compounding the issue.

Outsourcing of collection of power bills will surely involve additional expenditure but the benefit might not be as visualized because of default and free usage of electricity by a number of institutions and collectively provincial governments and the Government of Azad Kashmir owe a huge amount to the distribution companies.

The retrieval of this amount will remain a question-mark even if the collection is assigned to the private sector.

Similarly, the plan to allow DISCOs to set up dedicated special police stations to deal with electricity theft would also involve significant expenditure and, therefore, it would be more appropriate if services of the existing police stations are used with the cooperation of the provincial governments.

It is also to be seen how the dedicated police force would act firmly against power theft when the Pakistan Army could not do so when attempts were made to deal with the problem in the past.

As for conservation measures, various plans were devised in the past as well but these could not be implemented due to lack of cooperation from the business community.

Early closure of markets has the potential to conserve energy and save precious foreign exchange but the option could not be used in the past and now that there are governments of different parties at the centre and in the provinces, it is all the more difficult to bring all stakeholders on board.

The Prime Minister has done well by issuing instructions to give priority to domestic consumers in the gas load management programme for the winter.