The power sector in Delhi was privatised 17 years ago in June 2002 and since then, the monetary losses due to power theft have come down by over 50%. At the time of privatisation, the losses were around 60% and now they have been curbed to under 9%, but officials have said that still a lot needs to be done to check losses due to power theft. According to sources in the power sector, power theft results in Rs 400 crore of annual losses to power supplying authorities in Delhi.
The Sunday Guardian tried to understand the issues faced by inspecting officials in areas prone to power theft and those areas where power theft is most common. Power theft is rampant in areas of North, West, East and Central Delhi like Najafgarh, Jaffarpur, Mundka, Karawal Nagar, Seelampur, Mandawali, Chandni Mahal, Nand Nagri, Yamuna Vihar, Daryaganj, Dallupura, Old Seelampur, Khichripur, Shastri Park, Baljeet Nagar, Sabhapur village, Burari, Jahangirpuri, Wazirabad and Shaheen Bagh.
According to officials, in these areas the Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses, which is the difference between the amount of energy released and the amount which is billed, still range between 25-40%.
According to officials, often, in these areas, the locals don’t let the inspection teams check their meters and threaten them to leave.
An official source in the power department, who is not authorised to speak to the media, told The Sunday Guardian, “Whenever inspection teams go to these places, unscrupulous elements of the area ‘gherao’ them and don’t let them check the premises. A couple of years ago, it led to the tragic death of an official, besides causing injuries to four others. They were simply undertaking inspections, working on a tip-off to check for large-scale power theft in village Jhuljhuli, a high power-theft prone area in Jaffarpur, West Delhi. They were accompanied by Delhi Police officials as well.”
How the theft happens
The authorities providing electricity in Delhi have from time to time resorted to new technologies to counter the problem of power theft, but the corruption in this sector seems to have made these new technologies look redundant.
Razzak, 45, a local electrician from Okhla, explained the role of corruption in aiding power theft. “There are agents or middlemen who act as links between the officials from the power supplying companies and the locals who use stolen electricity. Hefty amounts as bribes are given to these officials who come for checking and some amount goes to the middlemen as well. After this, people are allowed to steal electricity in whichever form they want to as the officials won’t interrupt,” he said. Razzak also said that there are several colonies and slums in Delhi which are unauthorised; even then, they have electricity and almost all of it is stolen.
Even as new technologies are introduced to curb power theft, people come up with new ways of stealing electricity. During election time, politicians in some areas also refrain from taking any action against power theft as such action may affect their vote banks.
Ismail, 50, another electrician, said that there are various methods by which electricity is stolen. “Earlier, there were manual meters which were very easy to tamper with, but around a decade ago, digital meters were introduced. These were a challenge because the meter readings were available on the display. But people know how to work around things, so they came up with ideas to tamper the digital meters as well. Often, people would break the display or burn it and tamper with it from within and when officials came to check the readings, people would have the excuse that the display is broken,” he said.
Ismail mentioned another method of attaching one’s wire to someone else’s power cable, a method also called “katiya”. “Using a katiya is one of the oldest and easiest methods. Often, you might have seen that the overhead wires are tangled, one over the other. Some people attach their wires to wires providing electricity to someone else and not just that, some of them also attach their wires to the street lights and get power from there,” he added. A new kind of magnetic chip imported from Nepal is also available in the market which is inserted in the meters, so that the readings can be reduced, he said.