WITH unpaid electricity dues well in excess of Rs300bn, the power crisis in the country needs to be urgently addressed. To this end, the Council of Common Interests has approved the use of the police force to aid power companies in the recovery of electricity dues from defaulters. Provincial police departments are to designate one DSP with 40 personnel to be placed at the disposal of each distribution company to accompany recovery officers in their quest for the elusive dues. While none can quibble with the objective, the means proposed to achieve it raise concerns regarding fairness and practicality. For one thing, it appears that this modus operandi will be employed against defaulters across the board, at the institutional as well as individual level. The biggest defaulters of power dues are public-sector institutions, not to mention government departments and the armed forces. Until these recalcitrant offenders are proceeded against, the process cannot be seen as transparent and even-handed. However, one can safely assume that they don’t face the prospect of a police contingent beating down their doors to recover the dues any time soon. Politically well-connected private defaulters can also rest assured that the all-pervasive culture of patronage will continue to protect them. In areas where kunda (illegal) connections are rife, power personnel seeking to disconnect these have often been confronted with mob violence from locals and there is no reason to believe that matters will be any different if police officers accompany them. It may even result in the situation getting completely out of hand.
Moreover, the potential for abuse in the proposed method is enormous. The prospect of the police, an institution that does not — to put it politely — have a sterling reputation in terms of integrity, being given the power to barge into private homes on the pretext of dues recovery is alarming. It would serve the power distribution companies far better to implement the methods so far employed only in a lackadaisical manner, such as lodging FIRs for power theft and pursuing them to their logical conclusion, and doing so without fear or favour.