Law enforcement authorities have failed to prevent the theft of copper from extra high tension (EHT) cables in Karachi, resulting in an approximate loss for the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) to the tune of twenty million rupees from 50 incidents last year, and 12 incidents of theft have already taken place this year in the city. And that’s just the material loss.
The EHT cables are extra high voltage and contain about 132,000 to 220,000 volts of electricity and require a certain amount of skill, and a lot of help to cut and transport. The towers which connect these cables are the skyscraping ones that look like Eiffel Tower.
“They have to know how the conductors work and they have their own mechanisms for tearing the cables down,” says KESC spokesperson Aminur Rahman.
Most of the theft takes place on the outskirts of the city in Gadap, Malir, Bin Qasim and further into Sindh in Gharo, but despite repeated requests for assistance from the Sindh police, the thefts have continued nearly unabated.
“It is not possible for us to man about a thousand of these towers where the (EHT) cables are, even though we have hundreds of our own security personnel that patrol. It is not possible without state protection,” says KESC General Manager Usama Qureshi.
Qureshi says that last year two gangs of these thieves were arrested but weren’t punished because they were let out on bail.
“When you have criminals like murderers being let out of jails, it’s not likely these people will remain in jails,” says Qureshi.
According to Qureshi, groups of 20 to 25 thieves chalk out an area and then arrive late at night with one or two trucks. These cables are too heavy to transport by hand and it is necessary to have a vehicle such as a Shehzore.
“They toss a chain up to the cable that shorts the cable and then they are able to cut it. They then use heavy steel cutters and a bamboo housing so that electricity isn’t conducted through it,” says Qureshi.
Copper sells for about 650 rupees per kilogramme, according to Qureshi. “These people then take the copper and sell it at scrap markets. Even if they have to melt it down to sell it they are still making a profit of hundreds of thousands. Stealing a car involves greater risk but probably gets you about the same amount of profit.”
KESC has made repeated attempts to get the police more involved in protecting their infrastructure but very little has been done.
When asked why, despite the existence of many letters addressed directly to his seat, no action was taken SSP Central Asim Qaimkhani said, “If any letters have been sent by the KESC to me I haven’t received them. We see many different incidents of theft on a daily level but nothing specifically about this. If we get instructions, we will take care of the problem.”
A similar reaction was given by SSP Khadim Hussain Rind who said, “It’s possible that letters had been sent to individual police stations but it’s not in my knowledge.” He went on to defend his position saying, “when I have received complaints from them before I have taken action.”
Rind says that in his experience he has seen that in theft like this help is secured from insiders of the company and they are told when power will shut down in an area so they can access the cables risk free but KESC spokesperson says this is only true when it comes to the smaller cables you find in residential areas, not for the EHT cables.
EHT cables carry electricity that is generated from the grid stations and when circuits trip it result power outages in the areas where the thefts are taking place.
“We have millions of losses in revenue aside from the immediate material cost,” says Qureshi, “hundreds of thousands of people who are connected to each grid station lose power for hours on end.”
Rahman adds, “Our equipment also takes massive wear and tear and a conductor’s life can be cut in half because of theft.”
The towers that connect the EHT cables also experience damage and the cables have to be rejoined which is an additional cost the company incurs.
KESC has also requested that the government ban the purchase of copper in scrap markets because the only places that copper can be procured in this manner is from companies with large infrastructure containing copper like Railways, Steel Mills and KESC. Even if this ban is imposed, a black market will likely replace it, because the trade is so lucrative.
“This is the highest value copper. If there is no demand in scrap markets, then the thieves won’t be able to sell it,” says Qureshi.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.