India, the largest democratic country of the world, provides shelter to more than 1.25 billion people. It is home to three times the population of the US though geographically only one third of it. The infrastructure has been developed enormously since its independence in 1947 but, even now many villages do not have electricity. Uninterrupted power is dream for most of the population. In this scenario, strange it may sound about 132 Billion units of electricity is pilfered in India during 2011-12. About 70% of population of India still lives in rural areas where agriculture provides the main livelihood to the majority. Many people do not have electricity supply and even when it is available, supply of electricity is erratic. When a utility starts providing 24 hrs power supply to certain area, it finds a major place in the newspaper. The Ministry of Power, though announced ‘Electricity to all by 2012’ as its objective, could not achieve it so far and now extended traget to 2019.
People have to wait for hours to get the electric supply restored once a snag develops somewhere, especially in rural area where ‘no power’ is accepted as destiny. Development of energy sector does not take place in tandem with the increasing demand and ever spreading menace of Power theft has worsened the situation. The rapidly growing population and rising urbanization has put great stress on energy sector. India is power stressed. Increasing vitality of economy is not matched by similar vigour in the Power sector which is yet to wake up to the 21st century challenges.
It is a fact that installed capacity has recorded growth. From a mere 1713MW installed capacity in 1950s, it has risen to about 314642 MW by 2017. (CEA-Installed Capacity, 2017)About 33% of Generation capacity comes under the states, 25 % under the Central Government and the rest in private sector, which is now substantially increasing role, thanks to new policies of the Government that gives increasing thrust to Mega projects and Renewable sector with private partnership. Vertically integrated State Electricity Boards and private utilities exist in Indian power sector where electricity is a concurrent subject as both the center and state governments have definite role in evolving direction and guidelines. But it is sad fact the power theft has not been given due importance in the scheme of things.
India has approximately 6-10% shortage in energy demand and the peak demand deficiency in some states is nearly 25%, compels the Load Despatch Centres to throttle down resulting brown out everyday peak period. About 80% of the villages are electrified but it doesn’t mean that all households are benefited. The Transmission and Distribution losses are restricted to around 10% in better managed utilities in the developed countries. Of the every 100 units generated in India, 35 units are lost on an average due to technical and non-technical losses. (Power Sector, 2017) This staggering figure 77% in some states! This sorry state hinges as much on inadequate development of transmission and distribution lines as on other factors including Power theft and irrational tariff structure.
Raising tariff even for good reasons may not go well with the people. The distribution companies take care not to antagonize the public as they know the proclivities of the public. People are happy if a utility charges less and ready to overlook the poor standards and service they receive. This is the basic attitude of the middle class Indians which forms the majority of electricity consumers. Perhaps this might have prompted to play safe by keeping current charges low thus making it difficult to go for the necessary upgrading of lines and renovations which requires huge investments. It is a sad fact that the Power sector is concentrated mainly on increasing generation capabilities resulting in increased capital cost rather than loss reduction exercise which includes implementation of a mechanism to thwart power pilfering..
The distribution loss in India has increased by 432% over a period of about a quarter of a century due to the reasons explained above. No country can claim a fair position as far as losses are concerned. The approximate cost of the distribution loss for the last quarter century comes to around $100 Billion. India has adopted the European system of drawing more Low-Tension lines, thanks to the British rule, which passed on certain technical legacies along with culture and arts!. Many European countries are very small, even smaller than majority of Indian states. Hence their distribution loss is considerably low.
How have we reached here? Theft of energy is the major singular cause of all disorders and problems in power utilities. The money value involved in theft is about $4.5 Billion dollar i.e., about 1.5% of GDP as per the statistics of the World Bank, few years back. [Bhatia & Gulati, 2004] Poverty drives many to steal electricity and they form a majority, while a few consider it as a white collar theft. (Prashar, & Sreenivasan, ,2015) Delhi, the capital city, stands out as the worst case of power theft. As much as 45% of the power generated was lost in the capital even after 2-3 years of private participation .Now it has been brought down substantially but few Divisions under BRPL and BYPL are notorious for 40-60% loss.
What stops utilities from eliminating Power theft? Vested interests of the stake holders including appeasing vote bank, consumers, utility employees, poor enforcement of law, habit of utilities to compound the power theft cases, prolonged litigation and, of course, the socio- political situations. The poor performance of state owned utilities in reduction of loss is due to weak accountability, poor governance and inadequate investment. They have little incentives to improved performance and any hard work goes unappreciated. Private participation has raised hope of better efficiency and accountability .However, it turns out that privatization of power sector is not a panacea for eliminating power theft.
India is world’s sixth largest energy consumer, accounting 3.4% of global energy consumption. Due to its economic rise, the demand for energy has grown at an average of 3.6%per annum over the past three decades. Distribution loss of Indian Power sector, having long low tension lines, is ‘surrogate’ to Power Theft. [Steadman, 2011] Even after engaging the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Delhi continues to enjoy the status of ‘capital of Power theft in India’ and here even 20% AT&C loss is considered as fair. The problem of corruption and vested electoral interest have prodded authorities to turn a blind eye to theft of power and many go Scot free if they are very close to ”power”. The erstwhile Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking was fed up with Power theft at the connivance of employees. Now the power distribution has private participation. When the new power companies have started conducting surprise inspections to detect power theft, the unscrupulous people have shown signs of panic.
It is estimated that about 777 Million units of electricity is being pilfered in Hyderabad city, the cyber capital of India, in a year alone.(Sreenivasan,2017) The cost works out to $ 75 Million.In some part of the city designated as ‘’sensitive,” less as 50% of the consumers pay electricity charges, even though thousands of electricity meters are installed on poles. Here, professional power theft perpetrators are available who perform tampering of energy meter either permanent or temporary nature. The Power sleuths in India has the credit of detecting more than 75 varieties of high-tech Power theft in India in Electronic meters, though these meters are claimed to have state- of-the- art technology. Remotely operated Power theft, Frequency manipulation, Theft using Electro-static discharge (ESD) on energy meter, Harmonics and other spurious signal injections, umpteen methods of hardware tampering on energy meters are few methods to mention. (Sreenivasan, 2017) The power sector all over the world is closely observing new products that meet the challenges raised by the perpetrators and recently an Indian Company has found a partial solution to Power theft using Electro-static discharge in high end meters.A lot more is expected from meter manufacturers all over the world.
Even meters installed in substations are not spared by perpetrators. The feeders of a Sub- station in Musafar Nagar, a city in North India were tampered with a remote operated shunt. The Substation was feeding power supply to steel furnace factories nearby. The raid was conducted under the leadership of the Minister and found energy meter- not at the consumers’ premises, but at the Substation- was tampered with modern-day technology, reminding us the usage that ‘fence itself eating the crop’. This may be a joint effort of many who wanted to sabotage the energy audit system also.
In Punjab, Power theft is rampant in border districts especially for operation of tube wells and steel re-rolling mills which are current intensive in nature. Unfortunately, any officer who puts an effort to tackle this menace invites transfer, harassment, victimisation and a host of troubles .Farmers have been provided with subsidized or free electricity through out the country and it is one of the zones where electricity theft and misuse are maximum. In the state of Punjab, when the technicians of utility went to attend a fuse off call from a consumer, were surprised to find that even the Distribution Transformer (DT) was stolen for its metal parts to be sold after taking them apart in scrap market . This is not an instance of isolation.
If we think that power theft is a rural phenomenon or only prevalent in slums, we are for a rude shock. In Mumbai City alone, irregularities involving 1280 Million units were detected in 3 years. Even the constitutionally recognized bodies such as Zilla, Taluk and Gram Panchayath (Local self Government) in Bangalore are reported to have performed power theft sending a shock message to the society! Even the small state of J&K is losing $ 0.25 Million a day by way of energy theft. With the onset of winter, the energy consumption moves up by 20%.The resort to unscrupulous method is rampant even among the people at the topmost rung of the society who have developed meanest trick of pilferage according to the Power Development Department. The department has no effective Anti Power theft squad but a few officials who could not unearth even a small fraction of abnormality.
Pilferage of power in the name of religion is taken for granted in India. It occurs during almost all festivals, irrespective of the community or the state. A report says 97% of the organizers of festivals in Maharashtra State commit power theft. It’s very difficult to detect power theft during that time, as all devotees gather and attack the enforcement officials, as if the officials are from other communities or an atheist deliberately disturbing the festival. Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MSEDCL) has gone to the extent of advising various organizations that conduct festivals, not to venture into theft during the time of festivals. Usually the light and sound contractors arrange generators for temporary use; but they seldom operate them, instead venture into stealing electricity.
General elections are yet another occasion to perform power theft in India. The police are pre occupied with keeping the law and order and usually the menace of Power theft goes unnoticed. In Tamil Nadu, during general election the venue of a leader’s campaign spot was illuminated with about 300 fluorescent lamps. The party had stolen electricity using hooks to add colour and light to the huge hoardings and stages and also to display the huge election symbols which are decorated with small bulbs. When top leaders come to political meetings, an engineer is used to be posted at the place to ensure uninterrupted supply of stolen power! In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, large scale Power theft is reported during general election time. Another significant aspect is the abnormal use of electricity for agriculture purpose during these times, a clear indication of misuse and theft. This has been done with the connivance of local leaders of ruling party.( Golden & Min, 2012)
The abduction of an engineer belonging to a utility from one of the North Eastern states forced the utility to postpone the implementation of a plan to revamp collection procedure. This happened when the utility was just about to collect arrears and check power theft. In order to boost the morale of the employees, a Managing Director and Senior officers of a power Utility in North India, who decided to have first hand information of theft detection had to face unruly mob and to retreat after stone pelting .A senior Power sleuth in the Cyber city of Hyderabad had to seek police protection even after his retirement from service, following continual threat of perpetrators
The mighty people and even the law makers indulge in theft of electricity. The Indian laws are stringent to punish the guilty in the case of electricity theft but the time spend to conclude a case is too long. The state of affairs in Power theft is pennywise and pound foolish. As the law permits to compound the offence, its magnitude comes down to the level a petty traffic violation case, where discharge of offence can be done by paying a small penalty. Utilities across India have not treated power theft seriously the way it should be. The reply to RTI to Discoms across India yielded poor responses and many utilities even do not have the statistics of theft detected.
Indian power sector is crippled by theft on one side and misuse on the other side. Energy wasted in daily life on account of less efficient electrical appliances is shocking. The simple guesstimate of waste and power theft says even the best stabilizers are only 80% energy efficient. Considering 10 million odd Air Conditioners in India, which are in operation for 5 hrs a day, the loss would be 20 MU per day! And the annual loss would be $600 Million!!. With power generation capacity, the energy available per day will be 5275 Million units at 0.7 plf of which 20-25% ie. 1055 Million Units of electricity is lost by way of Power theft every day causing annual loss of 6.5 Billion to the exchequer!
Energy meters are no more instruments for recording electricity consumption. Consumer Metering and feeder metering are one of the key approaches to reduce losses and theft, coupled with the replacement of the conventional electro mechanical meters with new electronic meters and the deployment of state-of-the-art emerging technologies such as, AMR and AMI etc.to assist in loss reduction and improved revenue collection. This may be more intensively done with the aid of centrally aided Schemes and the requirements of energy meters in coming decade will be more than of 100 million. The possibility of rolling out smart meter technology is yet another way of controlling power theft.Utilitiles are different in nature in India and hence the strategy to reduce theft also varies. There should not be a common system thrust upon to Discoms as strategy to reduce theft in one utility need not be successful in another. Unless 100 % consumers are metered and electricity at various distribution points are monitored, the Discoms can never think of attaining a healthy financial status.
The above instances are only tip of the ice berg. Many utilities, now at a snail's pace, realize the need to control Power theft, lest they should fall into darkness. Various training to power engineers are being arranged and regularly updates them with latest happening around the world. But crooks always have the ability to stay one step ahead of the anti power theft detection system. They stay in their business purely through their flair to circumvent any challenge that comes their way. The R&D of electricity theft is moving faster than the best metering system available in the world, which was revolutionized with the advent of ICs and programmable logic circuits. India is now aiming at application of Information Technology in Power sector especially for controlling Power theft and losses. The R&D units of meter manufacturers have a great role to play in designing tamper resistant energy meters with more features to withstand the challenges from field. The repercussion of privatization on long run is not clear as of now and the present indication points finger that privatization is not the single remedy to control power theft. As the Indian power sector has now realized need of controlling power theft incorporating latest technology, it can be brought back to the right track and effective laws and updated theft detection system with the aid of modern power system tools would help control power Theft.(The author can be contacted email@example.com)
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