KARACHI: The Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) has announced zero tolerance for gas theft to save every single unit of this precious national energy resource for its domestic, commercial and industrial consumers.
The SSGC’s Director General, Security Services and Counter Gas Theft Operation, Brigadier Muhammad Abuzar (Retd) while exclusively taking to Business Recorder explained that the major objective to control theft is to make the Company financially sound.
The gas theft in SSGC alone contributes 50 percent to Unaccounted-for-Gas (UFG) or line losses. This means that every percentage increase in UFG would lead slashing more than Rs 1.5 billion from the Company’s financial bottom-line by the regulator.
“Touchwood, the measures we have taken over the years have significantly reduced our UFG especially in Karachi from 13 percent to single digit, i.e., 9 percent, in Upper Sindh from 18 percent to 11 percent and overall, in our franchise area from 17 percent to 14.26 percent,” he said adding that the SSGC, running in loss of around Rs 12 billion per year, has recorded a profit of Rs 2 billion during last financial year.
Regarding reasons behind gas theft, Abuzar said gas theft started in unplanned Kutchi Abadis, where gas distribution network was not available and the occupants of these localities started stealing gas from Company’s direct lines that were laid down in the adjacent areas, through rubber pipes.
Gradually this malpractice was picked up by few industries initially the cottage based sector, that started deploying suction boosting devices that are commonly known as gas compressors. Later, some commercial units such as ice factories and rice mills factories besides some ‘mawa bhattis’ (sweets manufacturing machines) started stealing gas. In Upper Sindh, during electricity load shedding, generators on stolen gas were another problem.
He pointed out that in places like Balochistan where mercury steeply falls during winter season, gas heaters run whole day for space heating and a common household’s bill shoots up enormously, affecting the customer’s ability to afford its payment.
That often leads to tampering of gas meters on massive scale or pilfering gas by puncturing the supply lines for meeting their space heating and cooking needs. “Despite of our rigorous efforts to effectively control gas theft, we could not make any significant impact due to a simple reason as no law existed in this regard,” he said.
However, in the year 2016, the then Parliament of Pakistan passed Gas (Theft and Recovery) Act 2016 that vociferously pronounced imposition of heavy penalties on the culprits in form of imprisonment and fines in various listed categories of gas theft to the tune of 14 years of jail and Rs 10 million (one Crore rupees) as fine. The Act proved to be a fresh breath of air that saw a lot of transformation on the gas crime scenes in the years ahead.
“Subsequent to this Act, our war against gas theft has been boosted by the establishment of more than 38 gas utility courts with 27 in Sindh and 11 in Balochistan for which our management had worked vigorously to get them established,” he said adding that ever since their establishment, they are taking punitive actions against the criminals by serving them punishments, corresponding with the category of theft they had committed. This support from judiciary has proved extremely helpful for us in controlling gas theft as the courts tend to effectively handle the cases at a good speed.
Abuzar said that the SSGC has a special focus on curtailing the gas theft activities. For this particular reason the company has established a Counter Gas Theft Department under the leadership of seasoned professionals with support from decent strength of officers and field staff including in-house dedicated prosecutors for dealing theft cases in different courts. “Subsequently in the year 2017, our management revamped the perilously functioning Surveillance and Monitoring Department by creating Security Services and Control Gas Theft Operations (SS&CGTO) Department,” he said.
The Department is duly supported by dedicated SSGC police force that enjoys assistance from other law enforcement agencies such as Sindh Police, Pakistan Rangers and FIA for undertaking raids on miscreants involved in domestic, commercial and industrial theft.
Despite the prevailing law and order situation, COVID 19 lockdowns, limited resources available, he termed the success as humongous. “Since 2017 till date, we have conducted 2,073 counter gas theft operations against industrial, commercial, domestic to commercial and bulk domestic registered customers, whereas 4,173 direct theft operations have been carried out against industrial and commercial unregistered consumers.
All these activities were good enough to create deterrence as we registered 731 FIRs, resulting in 335 number of recovery suits. Till date 380 criminal trials are in progress and 231 offenders have been convicted by the court of law.”
Moreover, in order to monitor the industrial sector, the Company carried out Joint Industrial Load Survey of 1,890 industries and their load enhancement was regularised on RLNG. Subsequently industries billed on Negative Pressure were 732; on Passing Unregistered Gas (PUG) were 103, whereas 192 were billed on EVC Malfunctioning.
As a result of these combined efforts, SSGC in financial terms had till date recovered around Rs 6.1 billion and has enormously saved on the gas volumes. A mammoth of total 1,738 MMCF of gas was saved with a break-up of 301 through gas theft operations, 576 through negative metering pressure, 323 through PUG and 538 through EVC malfunctioning.
He said Balochistan is the next point of concentration where UFG is still very high. SSGC has recently opened a police station in Quetta, as well. “We expect that with the help and support of the government of Balochistan, local LEAs and administration, the SSGC will be able to bring down gas losses in Balochistan, as well,” he added.
He requested the citizens to help the Company by informing such incidences of gas theft through SSGC’s 24/7 operational helpline # 1199, WhatsApp number 0323-821-3346, by simply mailing at gas.thef[email protected] or through various digital medium platforms.
The names of such responsible citizens are kept secret and as per law, that person can be eligible to 5 percent reward of the recovered amount.
“We have zero-tolerance for such heinous acts and we have shown this by successfully putting the culprits behind bars,” Abuzar said.
“SSGC is fully determined to stay grounded in its war against gas theft, we as a nation must keep the momentum going.”
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023