The government has decided to introduce a new gas theft control and recovery ordinance to clear the way for setting up gas utility courts in an effort to recover damages from consumers involved in stealing the energy.
The ordinance will empower the government to take legal action with the help of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the consumers involved in gas theft. Gas utilities would have powers to hire informers and reward them for providing specific information leading to recoveries.
Sources in the cabinet told The Express Tribune that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources had sent a summary to the cabinet for approval of the proposed Gas Theft (Control and Recovery) Ordinance 2013. If approved, the president will promulgate the ordinance, paving the way for establishing gas utility courts in the country.
In the ordinance, wasting gas negligently has also been made a criminal offence, which could implicate thousands of consumers who fail to control leakage of gas due to negligence of employees of gas utilities. However, officials are of the view that the employees of gas utilities, taking advantage of the clause, will blackmail the consumers who fail to control gas leak.
The previous government had also promulgated the Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2011 to punish the consumers involved in gas theft, but that amendment had no legal provision to deal with recovery of the value of stolen gas. In the new proposed ordinance, gas utilities would have powers to recover the value of stolen gas from the consumers along with fines and penalties.
According to salient features of the draft ordinance, the government would be empowered to define the procedure for filing prosecution cases and recovery suits in the utility courts. These courts will be able to impose penalty for theft of gas, negligently wasting gas, interfering with the gas meter or other works for improper use of gas.
The recovery of money would be ensured and the ordinance will grant powers to the federal government to make rules for carrying out the proposed legislation.
In 2011, the federal government had promulgated the Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2011 and amended the Penal Code 1860 and also the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 for declaring the theft of gas as a cognisable offence.
Following this amendment, a new chapter XVV11 of offence relating to oil and gas was inserted in the Pakistan Penal Code 1898 to deal with the offences. Subsequently, more than 450 complaints were lodged against the offenders and consumers.
This amendment was meant to deal with criminal proceedings, but no legal provision was made to deal with civil proceedings such asrecovery of the value of stolen gas.
The Act dealt with tempering with petroleum pipelines, tempering with auxiliary or distribution pipelines of petroleum, tempering with gas meter by domestic, industrial and commercial consumers, damaging or destructing the transmission or transportation pipelines.
Now, the Ministry of Petroleum in consultation with all stakeholders including gas utilities and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has drafted a new law with the name and title “Gas Theft (Control and Recovery) Ordinance 2013 in order to provide a procedure for swift recovery of the value of stolen gas, fines and penalties payable to the gas utility companies.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2013.