electricity_2_1.jpgBefore 2003 power theft was not a criminal offence in India. It is only the 2003 Electricity Act which made it a criminal offence, and it was about time! The Act says that those who tamper with power lines and meters 

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine or with both.

Now the government has gone a step further and Power Theft is to be a non-bailable and cognisable offence. The 2003 Electricity Act will soon be amended to incorporate this. A knee-jerk reaction, but very welcome.  
Earlier the thieves got away with a scolding
According to the BBC, India loses about 42% of the power supplied to Delhi, which is India’s capital city and for the rest of the country:

…the estimate is that somewhere between a third and half of the electricity supply is unpaid for.

This is a huge amount but a natural consequence of the fact that power theft has been a non-cognisable offence up till now. Besides, power companies have not been serious about punishing the thieves. Offenders are mostly reprimanded and if they are repeat offenders – their power supply is cut off. Detection and persecution is also difficult as it is suspected that influential politicians, power company officials and workers are colluding with some of the thieves (who are often commercial establishments.) 
What is strange is that it took so long for the Indian government to make stealing of power (which is vital to our economy) a non-bailable offence. 
South Africa is in the same boat
In some countries legislation is even weaker than India’s. South Africa is one of them. Action against a first-time offender is as follows:

…the meter/network should be repaired at cost to the customer and he should be given a written warning.

There is a re-connection fee of R1,500 (US$230). Second time offenders also have an easy time, although the the reconnection fee is higher – R2,000 (US$300). It is only the third time that the thief is brought to book: 

Where the meter or network is found to have been tampered with for a third time, in addition to the removal of the meter and disconnection of the customer, a criminal charge is laid with the police against the customer in terms of the Electricity Act.

Even for third time offenders, re-connection is allowed by paying the same R2000 fine. It’s not surprising that South Africa has a big problem on it’s hands. Issues concerning detection and persecution are also common, like in India.
The rest of the world
The world over power theft is not taken as seriously as say a bank robbery…but ofcourse it is a criminal offence to steal electricity in developed countries like the UK and the USA. I could not find authentic web resources for prison terms in these countries (readers are welcome to add to this information) but I did get an authentic web source for Ireland. Here, if electricity meters are tampered with or if electricity is stolen:

…on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £1,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both,
(ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.

However, developed countries have stringent policing and law enforcement methods and their electricity losses are miniscule as compared to India’s. China has also contained electricity theft. According to the BBC:

In China, Asia’s other emerging economic giant, no more than 3% of the nation’s power supply is lost to theft.

Hope for the future
Hopefully with this new amendment, power theft should come down.  At least the big-time thieves (owners of hotels, restaurants and other commercial space) will think twice before stealing. Increasing the penalty to five years will be better though. If five years is the norm in parts of the world where power theft is not such a huge issue, why can’t we have it here?

(From my Blog )