New Delhi, Dec. 8: Parliament has fortified the Electricity Act with clauses that bestow sweeping punitive powers in the hands of private distribution companies.
The act allows an assessing officer appointed by the power company to “enter, inspect, break open and search any place or premises in which he has reason to believe that electricity has been, is being or is likely to be used unauthorisedly”.
The officer can “search, seize and remove all such devices, instruments, wires and any other facilitator or article which has been, is being, or is likely to be used for unauthorised use of electricity”.
If power theft is detected, it will be assumed that the consumer has been stealing power for at least three months and penalties will be slapped accordingly.
In the case of industrial consumers, it will be assumed that the theft has been going on for at least six months. The onus of proof will be on the consumer to show that he has not been stealing for so long. The penalty is 1.5 times the tariff.
The law empowers the assessing officer to examine any book of accounts or documents which, “in his opinion”, may be relevant to the action relating to default of payment of bills or any other offence.
It provides for a penalty of up to Rs 10,000 for negligent wasting of electricity.
“What this means is that an assessing officer may cut off your TV and fridge connection, search your house in your absence, inspect any document at home. If a penalty is slapped, you have to pay first and then appeal,” an industry observer said.
The provisions have also fuelled fears that some power companies, like a section of credit card and auto loan companies, could hire hoodlums to threaten defaulters.
But a senior power ministry official said: “Any company that employs thugs or uses these clauses to unnecessarily harass the public may not get customers.”
But the law carries good tidings for the power sector. It has approved crucial amendments that will break the state’s monopoly over the distribution network by allowing private players a slice of the action.