Instead of taking stern action against perpetrators of power theft, the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) has resorted to moralising.
The utility company has launched an advertisement campaign against electricity theft during the month of Ramazan. Billboards dotting the city showcase slogans steeping in religious reasoning along the lines of: ‘don’t practice your religion under stolen electricity; the good deeds might go to waste’.
“Say your prayers and read the Quran using legitimately-obtained electricity, so your prayers are accepted,” or “conduct your business ethically, under rightfully-obtained electricity so your profits are lawful (halal).” The creative copy is geared to target the religious conscience of the public and stop electricity theft in the province.
The hoardings have been placed around the provincial capital, prominently so in busy squares. Each advertisement carries a toll-free hotline where people can lodge complaints against such theft. The city’s major newspapers ran the campaign on their front page.
Pesco will not stop at the billboard messages. It plans to establish special police in the city to deal with the issue and is asking scholars and Ulema to talk to people about electricity theft, claimed an official from the power company.
The supply company took the initiative after residents of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) took to the streets and the K-P chief minister asked the centre for its share of electricity.
According to the Pesco official, the company is losing Rs3 billion per month because of power theft and line losses. It tried different tacks to solve the problem, including attempting to collect dues. However, the plan backfired as people argued the bills would only be paid once Pesco provides uninterrupted power.
Whether the Ramazan campaign will prove more successful remains to be seen. But residents are already sceptical.
Abdur Rehman, an imam, did not mince his words when commenting on the new campaign. “If Pesco is targeting our religious conscience to stop theft, they need to awaken the conscience of their authorities first.”
Consumers pay hefty bills and get no respite in load-shedding, even in Ramazan, added Rehman.
Some members of the public argue stealing electricity is their right. “It is our right to use electricity without paying bills,” stated Izhar Mehmood, who lives near the Warsak dam. “The dam has been constructed on our lands and the government of the time promised we would not need to pay electricity bills.”
Those who live in Bara also claim free electricity as their right – but for different reasons. “We were given assurances that once we stop the harvest of poppy and the production of heroin, we would not need to pay for the few hours of electricity we receive,” said Muhammad Nisar, a tribesman. As they have now stopped harvesting the plant, the tribesmen lay claim to “promised free power supply”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2013.