The issue of stealing of electricity has attained unacceptable proportions. The federal government in this regard has proactively amended the Electricity Act and declared electricity theft a non-bailable crime. This is a necessary step to curb a perpetual menace, however only time will tell if this new act will bear any weight in putting an end to power theft in the country.

The new law, declared as the ‘first of its kind in the country’s history’, enables the arrest of an offender without warrant with a sentence up to seven-year imprisonment and a fine up to Rs 10 million. Moreover, it gives the government the power to confiscate and auction the defaulter’s property to recover the outstanding bills. This has already been passed from the parliament and approved by President Mamnoon Hussain.

Several clauses have been incorporated in this act, including Clause 462-H that includes committing the crime of dishonestly tapping or making any connection to overhead, underground or underwater lines. In this case, the criminal shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to seven years and with a fine, shall not be less than three million rupees.

This is a good step in the right direction. Due to lenient laws and negligible punishment in the past, the violators never faced punishment, at least enough to deter them and other violators from committing the same crime. The huge fines and longer sentences will definitely rectify this issue. However, given the rampant corruption, is it really enough to set all our hopes on just one act, especially in a country that has a bad record of actually implementing laws? The energy crisis is not just about the capacity of power generation, where structural reasons go far beyond just circular debt, bad governance and corruption. But is it fair to ask the public to bear the entire cost of what is arguably a blunder on part of the state compounded by bad governance? In the past, Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCo) has called for the disconnection of electricity supply to 18 government institutions including the President House, Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Parliament Lodges, official residence of Chief Justice of Pakistan for not paying their bills. This makes it clear that along with such steps, it is essential for the government to make sure a precedent is set.

The general low-level of governance adds to obstacles, while public apathy has a part to play as well. The competency level of utility officials and the trite procedures being followed are no match for the delinquents. Policing and delivery of law, being a provincial subject, takes us to another realm which needs special scrutiny. When these problems are tackled, it will restore not just power, but also trust in the system.