The cabinet, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, is likely to amend a law to make electricity theft a cognisable offence, grant powers to police officers to arrest the consumers involved in power theft without a warrant and initiate an investigation without permission of the court.
Courts have ruled that registration of FIRs with police by the power distribution companies without first filing a complaint with the court, which is the sessions court in this case, would be treated as void and arrests made by the police would be unlawful.
Sources told The Express Tribune that a summary had been sent to the cabinet for approval of an amendment to the existing law in order to give powers to police officers for arresting the people involved in electricity theft without warrant and permission of the court.
Through an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, the offences relating to electricity theft were made cognisable by law but Section 462-O made them “cognisable by the court” alone. Since the main 2016 Act prevails over the schedules, the courts had held that direct registration of FIRs with the police was void and arrests made by the police were unlawful.
Sources pointed out that police officers may harass power consumers if they were given a free hand. Hence, the amendment has been proposed to make the offence cognisable if the information is provided in writing by the police, a grade-17 officer of the government or the distribution companies.
Officials said the Power Division had proposed the amendment in a bid to control electricity theft in the country. Owing to the theft, the power distribution companies were facing problems in the recovery of electricity bills where the theft level was high.
In this backdrop, the government encountered a big challenge in the recovery of the full cost of power generation. Owing to this, it was compelled to give billions of rupees in subsidy to the electricity consumers every year.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has comparatively fared well in the power sector where the distribution companies collected an additional Rs121 billion from electricity consumers between October 2018 and June 2019. At the same time, transmission and distribution losses edged down 1.4%, causing a positive financial impact of Rs160 billion during the period under review.
The anti-theft campaign had been underway across Pakistan since October 13, 2018, in the wake of directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan amid the slogan of zero tolerance of overbilling and corruption.
So far, 36,000 FIRs have been registered, 5,318 people arrested and Rs1.368 billion recovered under the campaign.