KARACHI: The Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) has a heart. Not one that runs on a pacemaker thankfully but one that understands that this city’s residents who pay their bills suffer because of those who don’t.
“KESC is trying to identify good and bad areas, so that it can reduce power cuts in areas where there are considerably fewer electricity losses,” said an official while talking to The Express Tribune about new data the utility issued on Tuesday.
If a neighbourhood is reporting less losses, then we want to stop power cuts in the area, he said. “It is so unfair that areas where there are considerably fewer leaks are also subjected to the same power cuts as areas where 70 to 76 per cent losses are reported.”
In a press release on Tuesday, KESC shared that there are 69 “kunda-infested localities” in Karachi, where as many as 500,000 kundas or illegal power connections have been attached to the main electricity supply lines.
The most problematic are the densely populated ones, such as the goths and the katchi abadis. “But even if we say that the areas of Defence and Clifton are possibly the least problematic, there are still several cases that have been reported from them,” said the KESC official. As these are the areas with more money, the ways of stealing electricity are also more refined.
While shantytowns work with kundas, illegal underground electricity cables are a popular choice with residents of areas such as Defence and Clifton. “This method was even used by a school recently,” he said. “We caught a guesthouse running on underground cables, as well as the house belonging to the sister of a media company’s owner.”
KESC recently came up with a new plan to monitor power cuts. Part of it was to identify areas where the kunda system and meter tampering were most common. KESC announced a head-on campaign to remove illegal connections and faulty meters from eight zones in its region No. 3 (the city’s east zone). These areas are supplied electricity through 80 feeders where the most amount of electricity loss has been recorded - as high as 76 per cent.
KESC divides the city into four regions to manage its power distribution system. And while the company is only focusing on region No. 3 in its first phase, it plans to expand the work to the other three regions over the coming days, sources revealed.
There are many ways to tamper with a meter, which is a huge problem. “This is why we are trying to work with the readings on a feeder,” the official explained. By recording the readings, you can see how much electricity was supplied to a feeder and how much went ahead. This is how leaks can be identified.
Unfortunately, around 34.9 per cent of the electricity sent out from KESC cannot be billed because of technical losses and theft. While one-third of electricity losses are due to technical faults, two-thirds are due to electricity theft. These are called transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. One per cent of T&D loss equals a loss of Rs1 billion per annum.
The problem is that there is no legislation in terms of dealing with kunda connections or meter tampering. Stealing electricity is not a crime punishable by the court.
“The most we can do is remove the meter, issue the consumers a notice and impose a monetary penalty on them,” said a source. “When they pay the penalty, they become ‘good customers’ again.”
He added that there are too many people in Karachi for such a drive to be thoroughly implemented. “We act on tip-offs. We are informed of irregularities in billing information, in meter readings, after which we go to a house and check what’s happening.”
According to KESC, an amendment to the electricity act, making electricity theft a non-bailable offence, is called for.
This can only happen with the support of the government, political parties, law-enforcement agencies, judiciary, members of civil society and the media, the press release stated.
Areas where electricity theft is not as common and where residents pay their bills on time will get efficient and effective services as compared to those areas where electricity theft and the non-payment of bills is on a higher side.
KESC has asked its “honest and genuine” customers to join the drive to catch thieves, who are “not only causing huge financial losses to the company, but also forcing longer spells of power outages in these areas.”
Reasons behind power cuts
A gap between the demand and supply of electricity, fuel and cash-flow constraints as well as transmission and distribution faults are the main reasons behind power outages.
Under the scheduled Load Shedding (LS) policy (which covers Karachi as well as parts of Sindh and Balochistan), the city’s six major industrial zones as well as its strategic customers (KWSB, etc.) are exempt from power cuts. Residential customers are not supposed to face power outages between 1:30 am and 9 am daily, apart from the time slotted for Friday prayers. However, KESC officials said that there are occasional unscheduled outages due to technical failures across the network, which includes 1,200 feeders, 18,000 kilometres of overhead and underground wires or cables, 2,500 substations, 15,000 PMTs, 150 power units and 60 grid stations.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2010.