In this article, Richa Goel of Banasthali Vidyapith has discussed the punishments for electricity theft in India and various other acts which amount to electricity theft.
There are many other reasons for the transmission and commercial loss of electricity but stealing or theft of electricity is considered as the main reason. Many states have made efforts to prevent the theft of electricity by making stringent laws, which provide punishment for the different actions that amount to the theft of electricity. Electricity theft is a big problem in India. To regulate and keep a check on the theft of electricity, the Electricity Act, 2003 was enacted. It provides a deterrent punishment so that the number of electricity thefts and other offences related to the power industry falls down. Part XIV of the Act talks about penalties and offences.
Meaning of electricity theft
In general terms, the theft of electricity is the criminal practice of stealing electric power. It is an offence and is punishable with fine or incarnation. It pertains to non-technical losses. Non- technical losses are losses caused by the action exterior to the power system. It consists of non-payment of a bill, error in accounting or recording, stealing of electricity.
Section 135 talks about the acts which amount to the theft of electricity.
What amounts to theft of electricity
According to this section, Whosoever commits the theft of electricity by tapping the wires, damaging the meter, tampering the meter or makes unauthorised use of the electricity, his/her actions shall amount to theft.
In order to make a person liable under this section two elements need to be proved:-
1) Mental element (Mens rea):- The word “dishonesty” is used in the section, which means the person committing the act must have a malafide intention. But it is very difficult to prove, as the actual supply of lines is within the premise of the occupier.
Section 135 also states that whenever any artificial method is used or any other unauthorized method is used to procure electricity, then it will be presumed that a person has acted dishonestly.
2) Actus reus:- Physical act is necessary, as the section has described the ‘act’ that will amount to the theft of electricity.
It describes the maximum punishment which is imposed on the person committing theft of electricity, based on the amount of load that is stolen, and the number of times the offence is repeated.
Amount of Load
Second and subsequent offence
Lesser than 10 watt
Not less than thrice of financial gains
Not less than six times of financial gains
Greater than 10 watt
Not less than thrice of financial gains
Imprisonment:- not less than 6 months which can exceed 5 years and fine:- not less than 6 times of financial gains.
Crisis of Electricity theft
Theft of electricity is a serious problem. A number of innocent people are defrauded when their electricity is stolen. Power theft does not only prevail in rural areas but is also rampant in cities. According to a report by Times of India, urban slums are the hubs of intense power theft. Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation in the year 2002 had disclosed that most of the theft of electricity is committed in posh areas. A raid was conducted, after which it was revealed that most of the stolen consumers belong to the upmarket residential areas like Alipore, Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani etc. In spite of making an effort, the government has failed to curb the problem of electricity theft.
India power sector loses around $16.2 billion to theft every year – surveyed by Northeast Group. The president of the Northeast group stated that “ India loses more money to power theft than any other country in the world. Maharashtra, which also includes Mumbai also loses $2.8 billion per year. nationally totally transmission and distribution losses approach 23% and in some state, it may extend to 50% losses.
According to the World Bank estimates, power theft reduces India’s GDP by 1.5 %. According to a recent survey, it was found that 40% of electricity remains unpaid and around one-fourth of electricity produced is either lost in transmission or is stolen. Discom and power expert states that Delhi is losing RS 150 crore annually due to power theft by e-rickshaw. There is a number of e-rickshaws but only one-fourth of it is registered in India.
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Why power theft in India is a complex problem
There was a Hindi documentary movie which was released in the year 2014 which was based on the city of Kanpur which once prided itself as the “ Manchester of the East” and today it is a derelict where there is a shortage of electricity and people are struggling. In this, Loha Singh used to steal electricity for the purpose of providing to the person who did not have access to electricity. He claimed that he serves electricity when government fails to do so.
Instances where the offenders were punished
There are a number of cases where the imprisonment and a large amount of fine were imposed on the offenders. Here are a few of them:
- A man got a term of imprisonment of 2 years and a penalty of Rs 81 lakh was imposed on him because he was caught stealing power by tapping from the main service which was provided by BSES.
- In 2017, the state government of Jharkhand had set up a special investigation team to inquire about power theft. They found that Rs 3000 crore were being incurred by the State Government due to power theft. Don’t you think if this money was not going to waste in an act of theft, this would be used for the purpose of public welfare?
- In 2014, Madhya Pradesh Poorva Khestra Vidyut Vitran Company imposed a fine of Rs 1.62 lakh against Welspun Energy Pvt Ltd for power theft.
- In 2017, Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport imposed a fine of Rs 4.85 crore against the owner of the restaurant for alleged power theft.
Law Governing Electricity Theft
The penalties and offences relating to the theft of electricity are governed by Part XIV of the Electricity Act, 2003.
This Act was enacted with the objective of:-
- Framing the rules and regulations governing the generation, transmission, distribution and use of electricity.
- Development of the electric industry; and increasing competition therein.
- Preventing the unauthorised use of electricity
- Distribution of electricity to all areas.
- Accountability of electric tariff
- Constitution of authorities for dealing with the matter.
The Electricity Act 2003 is considered as the milestone for India’s power reforms. This legislation has reformed the electricity network and foundation in India. This Act was drafted for the purpose of regulating electric power in India.
Punishment for electricity theft
Section 135 to section 150 talks about the penalties.
Section 136 – Punishment when the theft of electric materials or lines occurs
Whenever a person takes the possession of wire, or carries away the wire or material from one place to another or uses the wire without permission of the supplier he will be liable for punishment.
Imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or fine or both
A second and subsequent conviction
Imprisonment not less than 6 months and not exceeding 5 years
Or not lesser than Rs 10000, or both
Section 137 – Punishment for receiving stolen property
When a person dishonestly receives any stolen electric material or wire shall be liable to Imprisonment which may exceed up to 3 years, or, Fine, or Both
Section 138 – Punishment for having a malafide intention
Whenever a person has an intention to make connection, reconnection, fixing or deteriorating the wire or electric material without the consent of the supplier is punished with-
Imprisonment: not exceeding 3 years
Fine: not exceeding Rs 10000
And In case of continuing offence daily fine extending up to Rs 500.
Section 139 – Negligently damaging or breaking works
Whosoever carelessly injuries, breaks, deteriorate or throws down any object which has a connection with the supply of electricity shall be punishable with a maximum fine of Rs 10000.
Section 140 – Penalty for intentionally causing harms to works
Whoever has the intention to cut off the electricity or injure, or makes an attempt to cut off or injure the electricity work or supply shall be punishable with a maximum fine of Rs 10000.
Section 141 – Demolishing public lamps
If a person demolishes public lamps he shall be liable to punishment with the maximum fine of Rs 2,000.
Section 142 – Penalty for not complying with the directions given by the Appropriate Commission
For not complying with the order of the appropriate Commission, a person shall be liable to pay fine not exceeding 1 lakh for each contravention by the way of penalty. And when it is continuing failure then additional penalty extending to Rs 6,000 for each day for the period during which it continues after the contravention of the direction for the first time.
Section 146 – Punishment for not complying with the directions or orders
If any person fails to comply with the direction or order given under this Act within the time prescribed or contravenes or abets or attempts to contravene the provision of this Act, he or she shall be punishable with the maximum imprisonment of 3 months or with fine and in case of continuing failure, an additional fine may be imposed extending to Rs 5,000 for each day during which the contravention continues after the conviction of the offence for the first time.
This section will not apply to the instructions, orders or directions given under section 121.
Section 148 – Penalty for the work which belongs to the Government
The acts which are punishable under this Act are also applicable when the electricity is supplied by the Government or the works belongs to the Government.
Section 149 – Offences by Companies
When the offence is being committed by a company, every person who was in charge of the company at the time of the commission of the offence will be processed and will be liable to punishment.
When the court is satisfied that such act was committed with consent or conspiracy or due to the negligence caused by the director, secretary, officer or other officers, in such case the director, manager, an officer will be processed and will be liable to punishment.
Section 150 – When a person abets or instigates the commission of an offence
- When a person instigates, conspires or engages with any other person for the commission of an offence, he or she will be liable for punishment under this Act.
- When the member of the Electricity Board or supplier enters into an agreement to restrain, to conceal some information related to the power theft, is liable to the punishment of imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both.
- If any person acting as Electrical supervisor, worker or contractor abets the commission of offence his license will be cancelled on his conviction.
Who shall take the Cognizance of offence
The court shall take the cognizance of offence when the complaint is in writing by:
- Appropriate Government
- Appropriate Commission
- Or any other officer appointed by the them
- Chief Electrical Inspector
- Electrical Inspector
- Generating Company
The special court may take the cognizance of the offence without giving an opportunity of being heard to the accused.
Section 151A: The police officer has all the power as provided under Chapter XII of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code for the purpose of investigation.
Section 151B: The offence from Section 135 to 140 or 150 are non-bailable and cognizable offences.
Section 152 – Compounding of offence
Any person who is alleged to have committed an offence can pay the compensation by way of compounding of an offence to any authorised officer under the Act.
Nature of service
Compounding of amount
Any person who is in custody makes the payment to the officer shall be set free and no further criminal or other proceedings will be instituted against such person.
Interpretation of the word “shall”
If we go through the provisions we find that the word “shall” is used, which means that if the person commits the offence falling under any provisions, the court is mandatory to punish in conformity with the punishment given under this provision.
The court cannot exercise his discretionary power for punishing the offence but can exercise in pursuance of the amount of punishment.
How to detect theft of electricity
Detection of theft of electricity is necessary in order to take an action against power theft and to protect from the loss of electricity.
Tampering of the electric meter or wire can be detected by the simple design of photodiode and the IR Led.
When conventional electro-mechanical energy meters are used:
A photodiode is located on the shaft of the rotating disk on the meter and is irradiated with IR right from the IR LED. Two situations may arise:
In the ordinary case, the outcome of the photodiode gives a logic low signal to the Microcontroller. Whereas when the meter tampers i.e when the meter cover is removed or the disk rotation interferes, obstruction is created between the photodiode and IR LED, resulting in a logic high signal to the Microcontroller. The Microcontroller discovers the change in logic signal and conveys a message to the GSM Modem through the level shifter. Then the GSM Modem transmits the message to the power distribution grid about the tampering of the electric meter at a particular location. And proper action is taken accordingly.
What action should be taken
The supply of electricity to the house of the organization is cut off or the meter can be replaced.
Identification of power tapping: It can be identified by making a comparison between the power distributed to the line and the power actually consumed by the load.
How is it done
By installing the electronic energy meter at the load side and meter readings are transmitted to the distribution unit. Reading is received by the wireless receiver and comparison is made with the actual power given to the load. The difference in the meter readings denotes the error and this error is conveyed to the controller which in turns results into the secondary voltage of the transformer, resulting in the transformer to stop the supply of electricity.
New Technological Development
With technological advancement, it is necessary to bring the new technology for the detection of power theft. In 2018, the Tata Delhi Distribution Power Limited (TDDPL), an institution that is responsible for supplying the electricity in Delhi has announced a solution based on artificial intelligence to detect and check the theft of electricity. It has developed technologies with the help of SAP Technologies, a global provider of enterprise applications which deals with the recovery of loss and computation of intelligence work.
Whether Section 379 of the IPC is applicable
Section 379 of the Indian Penal code talks about the theft of Movable Property. It is a general law that is being applied in all cases of theft. but it will not be applicable to the theft of electricity as there is special law,i.e Electricity Act 2003 which deals with the theft of electricity.
The High Court Of Patna held that “Electricity theft is not to be considered as movable property”. It is not theft under the meaning of Section 379 of Indian Penal Code 1860.
The High Court of Calcutta held that “whenever there is special law dealing with the theft of electricity general provision of section 379 of Indian Penal Code will not be applicable”.
The High Court of Bombay held that Section 378 and 379 of Indian Penal Code deals with the theft of movable property; electricity is not movable property but it is an energy.
Important Case Laws
The supreme court held that mens rea is an essential factor for making a person liable under Section 135 of the Act. This offence falls within the scope of Criminal Jurisprudence and the intention of the legislature is to bring the case of malpractice and unauthorized use of electricity within the scope of Section 135 of Act.
The Supreme Court held that “Whenever a licensee prima facie finds that the consumer has committed the theft of electricity, the licensee without giving an opportunity of being heard or without any notice disconnects the line and the line is restored only after the consumer compensates to the licensee.”
The High Court of Gujarat held that “The special court constituted under Section 153 or sub-section (5) of section 154 is being empowered to decide the quantum of civil liability in the case of power theft”.
The Supreme Court held that “interference with the electric meter under Section 138 of the Electricity Act, 2003 is a compoundable offence. The Supreme Court gave guidelines also.
How to file a complaint
One can approach the nearby offices of Electricity Board or Corporation established in their states. As each stated have their own electricity board and corporation the way of lodging the complaint differ from state to state. The electricity board in Jaipur is known as Rajasthan State Electricity Board.
One has to fill the following details in order to lodge the complaint.:-
- Building floor and building number
- Meter No/ Adjacent meter no
- Your Area of the suspect
- Any other relevant Information.
Now details of the informant need to be fulfilled. Details of informant include:-
- Contact no
- Brief detail of the complaint
- Upload a file ( not mandatory).
The complaint can be lodged by any person whether he is aggrieved or not. An aggrieved person can file and also a person who sees that theft of electricity is being committed. In some state, there is an option to track your complaint. The details of your application will be provided to you.
There is also a provision of a benefit to the person giving the information regarding power theft with the objective of enclosing the losses suffered by the Board. Electricity Board of Mumbai known as The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply provides a monetary benefit of 1% ( maximum =Rs 50000 ) after the information is obtained and followed by 5% after raiding to the information.
There are many strategies that can be adapted to minimize power theft for the benefit of developing countries. They are:
- Smart card technology should be adopted.
- Taking stringent action against the accused person by imposing a higher penalty.
- Monitoring of energy consumption per class, per sector and geographical setup must be arranged and statistical assessment of meter needs to be done.
- Advancement of electricity meters to meet the standard accuracy need to be conducted in order to support the minimization of non-technical losses through statistical assessment.
- Technical training to the operating personnel.
- In some cases, restructure of power system ownership and laws need to be done.
- Making people aware of the use of electricity, about unauthorised use, power theft, where to file a complaint, etc.
- Installing a smart meter. Presently the Government of Puducherry, New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka have initiated the process of installation of smart meters.
The number of cases of power theft is increasing and has become a serious problem. It is necessary to make a continuous effort to curb the problem, otherwise, we will be at a point where we will be left with no electricity or a minimum amount of electricity to consume. In today’s world, many people do not have access to electricity, especially in rural areas. It gives rise to a vicious cycle. Utilities running into loss ⇒ rise in power tariffs ⇒more burden on user ⇒ resulting in more unethical ways to tamper electric meter. As India emphasizes on the concept of sustainable development, electricity should also be saved for our future generations.
The BSES and the Delhi legal services authority established a special court in Karkardooma court for the purpose of settling the disputes of power theft.