The Bombay High Court has asked electricity distribution companies and police to form special squads to detect power thefts in Maharashtra.
The suggestion was given by a bench headed by Justice P V Hardas, which was yesterday hearing a PIL alleging power thefts in the state during Ganesh and Navratri festivals by public mandals and praying for a check to stop such illegal practices.
The court was informed that an earlier judgement of the High Court in a similar case had suggested formation of special squads to detect power thefts. The judges sought to know whether the ratio in that case can be applied here to track down thefts of electricity during the festivals.
Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL) had filed an affidavit saying it had formed 42 flying squads in vigilance department to detect power thefts. During festivals, temporary connection was given to the applicants and low tariff is charged. This discourages power thefts, it had said.
The temporary power connections in the state during festivals had increased from 581 in 2010-2011 to 1,154 in 2011-12 and 1,889 in 2012-13,MSEDCL had said in the affidavit. The power company had said it had opened a website to report theft of energy and the website is monitored regularly by the staff in the head office. All those found involved in power thefts are booked by the vigilance department. The theft cases detected during 2011-2012 were 5,377 and 8,264 during 2012-2013, MSEDCL said, adding that due to constant vigilance in detecting power thefts, there has been a significant reduction in distribution losses.
MSEDCL said it was equipped with latest electronic gadgets to detect power thefts and that it was competent to investigate all types of electricity thefts. Its raiding teams carry out surprise checks on weekends and holidays.
The PIL, filed by ex-journalist Ketan Tirodkar, alleged that during Ganesh and Navratri festivals, public mandals collect huge amounts as donations for organising celebrations and despite that, they are given heavy concessions in power usage by the state power utilities. The power distribution companies suffer distribution losses to the tune of 15 per cent overall and 50 per cent in some pockets. These are mainly due to power thefts resorted by 'sarvajanik' (public) mandals during festivals, the PIL alleged.
Mumbai's power demand is around 2,600 MW and the power supply companies -- Tata Power Company and Reliance Energy Ltd -- are able to provide only 2,300 MW at present. Besides, the state is facing power shortage of around 3,000-3,500 MW during morning and evening peak hours.
Arguing in person, Tirodkar said Maharashtra State Electricity Board had filed a petition before the government claiming it cannot meet 150 MW shortfall in Mumbai. He contended that the state was facing 3,000 MW deficit and needed more power for distribution. Tirodkar contended that the High Court in earlier orders had issued guidelines for checking power thefts jointly by police and Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST).
On July 21, 2010, the court had ordered setting up a special cell comprising police, municipal officers and BEST officers to deal with power theft incidents. He said in July 2010 order, the court had cautioned that special cell is often created but it does not produce desired results and hence care should be taken to supervise its working and a periodic review taken of its performance.
However, despite this note of caution issued by the court, there has been a total failure of the special cell to check and prevent the theft of power during the Ganesh festival and Navratri, the PIL alleged. He alleged private consumers - residential and commercial - get hefty bills in many areas on account of these thefts during the post festival periods. Also, the thefts from electricity poles go unrecorded. The petitioner said since Maharashtra had power deficit, it may have to draw power from neighbouring Gujarat.
Even in Thane rural district, there are many houses which are without electricity, although the island city of Mumbai has been given a special facility from the grid so that there is no power cut even as the whole state is in darkness. The PIL urged that the respondents be directed to enforce special cells formed as per the orders of the High Court to carry out physical checks of sarvajanik Ganesh and Navratri mandals during the festivals to detect and prevent power thefts.