PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police and other government agencies are cracking down to stop the theft of electricity and ensure proper power supply to the public.
Power theft has been a problem for years and worsens the chronic power shortage afflicting the whole country, as well as KP.
A destabilising problem
As reported by various media, the country's inability to supply adequate power reduces GDP by an estimated two percentage points and feeds public anger. One foreign think tank recently warned of the destabilising "social and political effects", which include protests and "destruction of public property".
Dishonest individuals, making things worse for everyone else, either do not pay their bills on time or illegally tap power lines.
KP officials seeking to protect paying customers and the infrastructure are taking action and stepping up raids against derelict bill-payers.
"We registered more than 714 cases against power thieves from January 1 to July 10," Amir Muhammad, station house officer of the Peshawar Electricity Supply Co. (PESCO) police station, said.
"During that period, we recovered about Rs 40.7m (US $388,285) from defaulters," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that police made about 800 arrests.
The PESCO police station in Peshawar, established in 2013, controls the area of the provincial capital as well as Nowshera, Hangu, Kohat and some parts of Hazara Division. It has about 50 police officers serving under Muhammad.
Two other police stations in Charsadda and Bannu monitor power theft and ensure the recovery of arrears.
Police, PESCO work together
The police officers work in co-operation with regular PESCO subdivision employees, who accompany police during any raids.
"As many as 70 cases were registered against power thieves in the limits of the Lala subdivision of PESCO," Muhammad said. "Other subdivisions where most of the cases were reported included Rahman Baba, Daudzai and Gulbela subdivisions of the provincial capital."
The crackdown has reduced power theft greatly, Muhammad said.
In 2015, police registered a total of 1,557 cases against power thieves, recovering Rs. 70.8m (US $675,444), he said.
Thanks to the prosecution of power thieves, PESCO recorded reduced losses in 2015. The losses fell from Rs. 34 billion (US $324m) in 2014 to Rs. 16 billion (US $153m) in 2015.
"The frequent raids by police against the hooks [line-tapping devices] and against the power thieves has reduced theft," PESCO spokesman Shaukat Afzal told Pakistan Forward. "However, more steps need to be taken."
Areas with a high incidence of power theft suffer more power outages, he said.
"Areas where residents pay bills more regularly are receiving a proper supply of power," he said.
Officials step up efforts against power theft
KP officials are seeking to end the plague.
In March, PESCO officials conferred with KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak to seek the help of the Peshawar district administration and other departments in stamping out power theft in KP.
The KP government in June suspended and began investigating a number of officials for poor performance in combating power theft. It issued strict orders to accelerate the crackdown on power theft, especially in dismantling the home-made hooks directly attached to power lines.
"Per an agreement with the [KP] government, deputy commissioners along with PESCO authorities will lead operations against power thieves and defaulters," PESCO CEO Anwarul Haq Yousafzai said at an April 21 news conference.
PESCO makes these efforts to ensure continuous power supply to all KP consumers, he said.
"PESCO has 93 grid stations," he said. "Work is under way on another 10 grid stations in KP."
Other measures to deter theft
Besides police work, KP authorities are trying other measures to reduce theft.
They are moving electricity meters out of residences and putting them on poles. They also are installing re-designed, insulated cables that make it harder to tap the power supply.
That said, improvement will take time.
"The rural areas where meters are installed outside and where new cables have replaced old lines still have more load shedding [blackouts] than do the urban areas," Muhammad Ishaq, a resident of a village in northern Peshawar District, told Pakistan Forward.
Consumers in low-theft areas should receive more power, he said.
Authorities say they are trying to increase supply through various means. Those include building a number of small power-generating dams in Khyber Agency.