Power theft is the practice of stealing electrical power.  Electricity utilities in India lose crores of rupees every year to power theft. According to Section 135 of the Electricity Act 2003, electricity theft occurs when a person taps electricity lines, tampers with electricity meters or transformers or uses a device that interferes with reading or damages equipment such as electric meters or uses electricity for purposes other than authorized. If under the circumstances theft of electricity is detected, then the electric utility can immediately disconnect the supply of electricity. The punishment for such offence is “three times the financial gain on account of such theft of electricity”. In case the person repeats the offence then the person is debarred from getting electricity supply for not “less than three months but may extend to two years”.

 

There are various types of electricity power theft and they relate to each part of the electrical equipment namely, a) meters, b) cables, and c) overhead lines. Further, usage of service connection other than for the authorized purpose also falls under the category of theft.

Meters: There can be tampering with meters and seals to stop the mechanical disk from moving. Another method is to bypass the meter by illegally connecting to the fuse thus preventing the rotating disk from moving thus preventing recording of the consumption of energy. Another common method is to damage or remove the meters. Other methods may include opening the meter itself, without damaging its seals and reversing the dials, a complicated procedure that requires expert skill. In the case of electronic meters, a sudden electrostatic discharge can cause either latent damage or permanent damage.

Wires/cables: In the case of wires and cable, theft of electricity occurs due to illegally tapping to bare wires or underground cables. In the case of wires, the circuit wire is disconnected or broken from the circuit terminal block and a triple breaker inserted in the circuit.

Transformers: Theft in this case refers to the illegal terminal tapping of overhead lines on the low voltage side of the transformer. There can be two types of tapping: fish pole connections and flying connections.

Misuse or diverting service connections: Electricity connections must be used for the purpose it is authorized for. For example, if the connection is effected for domestic purposes it is to be used for authorized domestic premises only. The service connection should not be extended to other purposes like commercial purposes, industrial purposes, construction purposes, etc. This constitutes theft of electricity.

Impact of electricity theft

Electricity theft has a major impact on the electricity system and its institutions: a) theft of electricity results in loss of revenue to the utility, b) disturbs the local area supply, leading to overloading of transformer creating blackouts or brownouts, c) damage to property of the utility and d) increase in transmission and distribution losses due to tampering of wires and cables.

Measures to prevent power theft:

Smart Meters: Smart Meters are seen as an important technological device to prevent electricity theft and help detect and prevent tampering of electrical equipment. In general terms, a smart meter is an electronic device that records electricity consumption at short intervals and communicates it back on a real-time basis to a utility for monitoring and billing. Similarly, using smart meters, utilities can monitor households or commercial establishments that do not pay their bills and can shut down their services remotely. Smart meters will have in-built tamper detection facilities which will send a real-time notification when there is an attempt to tamper.

Financial Rewards: Utility companies encourage consumers to report electricity theft, sometimes offering big rewards for information on any person stealing electricity. For example, Tamil Nadu Generating and Distribution Company (TANGEDCO) has instituted a cash award up to a maximum of Rs. 20,000/- as an incentive for giving information on energy theft. A cash reward is also paid to the board employees who are in charge of detection of theft of energy.

Periodic Checks: To detect and prevent theft, utilities undertake enforcement wherein periodic checks are conducted. For example in Tamil Nadu, seventeen enforcement squads have been established across the state. In addition to these enforcement squads, two more squads known as flying squad/Chennai and intelligence squads function within the enforcement wing.[2]

Technical interventions: The Ministry of Power is also enabling computerisation of distribution infrastructure, feeder metering, feeder segregation and monitoring of AT&C loss trajectories through various schemes such as Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) and Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) to enable States to improve their systems so that energy loss including those due to theft are reduced.

In India, electricity utilities lose billions of dollars each year through theft of electricity, making it an economic problem. As a result, it is necessary for the government to give widespread publicity and awareness to citizens on power theft. Further, citizens must be sensitised on aspects related to how power theft occurs and its economic impact on the utilities. From the utilities’ end, there must be proper outreach to its citizens on the action taken (Page 8) to combat theft.