CM Mian Shahbaz Sharif's decision to launch a crackdown on electricity theft is commendable. In the unlikely event that he succeeds, it will go a along way towards controlling the crippling shortages facing the country. At a meeting of the Taskforce on Eradication of Electricity and Gas Theft, he directed officials to show absolutely no discrimination while identifying culprits, and not to be afraid of anyone's influence, pressure or status. It is unlikely that this will inspire collection officials to knock on the doors of powerful ministries, defence units and major industrialists, all of whom have major inroads into the PMLN government, and also who will not be appreciative of a collection officer showing up fired up with visions of Mian Shahbaz's 'brave new world'.

We are a country where laws exist, but only for display in statute books; there is a recent wave of attempting to submit to them, but it will take some time before the society's attitude changes.

Power theft just like so many other afflictions is a manifestation of that sordid way of life and thinking, of disregard of law that is part and parcel of people's lives. During the previous government's tenure, a minister while holding the marriage ceremony of his son was found using a 'kunda' (a hook fashioned out of metal to conduct stolen electrify) to light up the festivities, and when approached by reporters, he said words to the effect that, "What's wrong with that, everybody does it."

This culture is common in the country; sometimes there are entire localities and communities that are engaged in stealing and all the authorities can do is to just look the other way. As transpired in the meeting the loss to the national exchequer is too huge to be put in words. But with the kind of commitment expressed in the meeting, there is an effort to incite hope that there would be some conclusive action, which could bring about a substantial change in the situation.

When electricity is stolen, the interruption in cash flow results in mechanical breakdowns occurring with increasing frequency due to non-maintenance, raised tariffs, managerial malfunctions; and at its receiving end are law-abiding citizens. There is no doubt that if vigorous action is needed, and it will be a historic test of Mian Shahbaz's willpower and resilience if he is to deliver results. One can only hope his good intentions translate into tangible victory over this societal menace.