The Punjab government has deployed the Task Force on Electricity and Gas Theft to work in just eight of the 36 districts of the province, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The chief minister set up the task force headed by Industries Secretary Irfan Ali on June 26. The task force’s mandate was initially limited to five big cities Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala and Faisalabad.
It was later pointed out to the chief minister that large scale electricity and gas theft was going on in the industrial clusters of Gujrat, Sheikhupura and Sialkot, at which point the task force’s scope was also expanded to these areas.
Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) have been providing the data on defaulters while the task force has been conducting raids where theft is taking place.
Meanwhile, “gas and electricity thieves have been left with a free hand in the other 28 districts,” said an official with knowledge of the functioning of the taskforce.
The appointment of the industries secretary, a grade-20 bureaucrat, to head the taskforce has also been questioned. Irfan Ali is currently attending a senior management course at the National College of Public Policy, meaning he is in classes till 3pm every day. After that, he must find time to manage the Industries, Commerce and Investment Department, as well as head the task force.
Since the taskforce’s formation, Ali has held only two meetings due to lack of time in his schedule, the official said.
“The taskforce should have a fulltime chairman with a separate office and staff to deal effectively with gas and electricity pilferage. And its mandate should be across the province,” he said.
The official added that there were grade-20 bureaucrats without postings in both the provincial and federal governments.
A DCO who is on the taskforce said that the chairman was often rude to field staff and used abusive language in his communications. His attitude was very discouraging, he added.
Ali said the campaign was going strong. The DCOs of the eight districts had been directed to make the crackdown on gas and electricity theft a priority, he said. About his allegedly abusive attitude, Ali said that this was an internal issue. “I am doing all I can to perform my duties efficiently,” he added.
A senior official of the Lahore city government said the task force had conducted about 3,000 raids to check electricity pilferage, getting 400 people arrested and 500 FIRs registered.
It had so far stopped the theft of 157 megawatts of electricity, he added.
The task force also conducted 21 raids at various factories and mills to check gas theft in Lahore, getting 12 arrested and 14 FIRs registered, he said. This had saved 1,200 MMCF of gas. No “big fish” has been rounded up yet, except the owner of Amin Dying Mills, who is a former parliamentarian.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2013.