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ISLAMABAD: The federal government has decided to expedite efforts for approval of amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code Act, aimed at making electricity theft a more stringent cognizable offence.

The actual losses of Distribution companies (Discos) stood at 17.82 percent during 2019-20 against Nepra's allowed losses of 15.53 percent. However, Nepra has determined future losses of Discos at 13.46 per cent, of which the target for Iesco will be fixed at 8.60 per cent, Lesco, 10.88 per cent, Gepco, 9.51 per cent, Fesco, 10.10 per cent, Mepco, 14.90 per cent, Pesco, 21.33 per cent, Hesco, 19.47, Qesco, 17.15 per cent, Sepco, 18.11 per cent and Tesco 11.96 per cent.

According to Secretary Power to reduce losses by 2 per cent in the next two years a 5.6 improvement in the recovery to take it to 96 per cent has been envisaged by the government. Power sector's circular debt has already reached over Rs 2.3 trillion of which 25 per cent share is related to Discos inefficiencies including theft.

Power Division, recently reconstituted Board of six Discos whereas new Boards of four Discos are expected to be approved by the Cabinet soon as summary has already been sent to the Cabinet Division.

Official sources revealed that Power Sector has been facing the situation whereby the recoveries affected by the Discos from the consumers are insufficient and inadequate to meet the cost of generated electricity. As a result, the GoP has to provide subsidy, especially to those Discos where leakage, pilferage and theft is rampant.

Primarily, this phenomenon emanates from fragile legal and enforcement structure. Resultantly, the conviction rate of such offences is small.

The Criminal Procedure Code, offences are either cognizable by police (arrest can be made by police without warrant), or by Court (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 Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 and promulgated in 2014. The law as it stood had an anomaly whereas through an amendment to the Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code, the offences relating to electricity were made cognizable by the police but Section 462-0 made them cognizable by the Court alone.

Since the main Act prevails over the schedules, the Courts had held that direct FIRs to the Police by the Discos (ie, without first a complaint to the Court, which is the Session Court in this case), were void, and arrests made by the Police were unlawful.

The Power Division argues that if the police are given unfettered powers to take cognizance, it would simply create another excuse for the police to harass the consumers. There is, thus, an urgent need to rectify the present situation that the Power Division finds itself in.

Hence, the proposed draft amendment makes the offence cognizable by the police, but only if the 'information' in writing is provided to the Police by a Grade 17 officer of the Government or the Disco.

The government has also proposed substitution of section 462-0, Act XLV of 1860 with the following wording "the offences punishable under chapter 662-0 shall be cognizable but the police shall not take cognizance of an offence under this chapter except where information of such an offence is provided to the police in writing by a duly authorized officer (not below grade 17) of the government or by a officer of an equivalent grade of distribution licencee, as the case may be.

Power Division intends to outsource bills recovery to the private sector, for which plans have been sought from Discos. In addition, different options are under consideration on privatisation of Discos including outsourcing of management control to private sector. However, stiff resistance from Discos' employees was witnessed in recent weeks and interviews for the post of CEO Lesco disrupted.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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