ELECTRICITY THEFT: LEGAL PROVISIONS IN INDIA
Author: Muskan Chhabra
Electricity theft have become a common issue in the developing countries. It forms the major chunk of Non-technical losses. The losses which are incurred by the external actions to the power system are known as the Non-technical losses. It has an adverse effect on the quality of the electricity being supplied. Generally, theft of electricity means the illegal act of stealing the electric power. Theft of electricity is an offence which is punishable under The Electricity Act, 2003.
According to a survey by Northeast Group India power sector loses around $16.2 billion to theft every year. The president of the Northeast group stated that “India loses more money to power theft than any other country in the world. Maharashtra, which also includes Mumbai also loses $2.8 billion per year. Nationally totally transmission and distribution losses approach 23% and in some state, it may extend to 50% losses.” Electricity theft is common in both rural and urban areas of India. There were many reports by Times of India that stated that power theft is most prevalent in slum area. Moreover, the theft of electricity has hit India’s GDP also. According to the World Bank, India’s GDP has been reduced by 1.5% due to the electricity theft.
As mentioned earlier, The Electricity Act was enacted in the year 2003 to regulate electric power of India and to keep a check on the electricity theft in India. The offences and punishments related to the theft of electricity are mentioned under Chapter XIV of the Electricity Act, 2003. This act has proven to bring power reforms in India and efficiently reformed the power foundation of the country.
Objectives of the Act are:
- To govern the distribution, generation and transmission of electricity.
- Keep a check on the unauthorised use of electricity.
- Distribution of electricity to all the areas.
- To frame all the rules and regulation related to the electric power.
- Take measure to develop the electrical industry.
Section 135 of the Electricity Act, 2003 talks about the acts which amount to electricity theft. According to this section, the person who commits the theft of electricity by-
- Tapping of wires
- Tampering or damaging the meter
- Unauthorised use of electricity
To impose the liability under Section 135 of the Electricity Act, 2003 the following conditions shall be fulfilled:
Mens Rea: Mens Rea is the mental element of an offence. It is considered that while committing the theft of electricity, the person should have a malafide intention. The word “dishonesty” has been used in Section 135 of Electricity Act, 2003 which means that the act shall be committed by a malafide intention. And it is quite understood that when any unauthorized method is used to steal electricity it is presumed that the person has malafide intention.
In The Executive Engineer vs. M/S Sri Seetaram Ricemill. the Supreme Court observed that, “Section 135 of Electricity Act deals with an offence of theft of electricity and the penalty that can be imposed for such theft. The offence squarely falls within the dimensions of Criminal Jurisprudence and mens rea is one of the relevant factors for finding a case of theft.”
Actus Rea: Only mens rea will not be able to prove that the person is liable for the theft of electricity. There must be a physical act accompanying with the malafide intention to impose liability. Therefore, the ‘act’ will amount to the electricity theft as mentioned under the section.
PUNISHMENT FOR ELECTRICITY THEFT
Electricity Theft is an offence which is punishable under Section 135 to section 150 of the Electricity Act, 2003.
- Section 135: The offence of power theft is punishable. The punishment for this is based on the amount stolen and the number of times the power has been stolen.
Punishment: Imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or fine not less than six times of financial gains or both.
- Section 136: A person shall be liable for punishment under this section if he takes the possession of wires , or he takes away the wire from one place to another place or if the person uses the wire without the consent of the supplier.
Punishment: Imprisonment not exceeding three years or fine or both.
- Section 137: A person who receives wire or any type of stolen electrical material shall be liable for punishment under this section.
Punishment: Imprisonment not exceeding three years or fine or both.
- Section 138: Section 138 states that a person shall be liable if he has an intention related to connection, reconnection, deteriorating or fixing any electrical wire or material without the permission of the supplier.
Punishment: Imprisonment not exceeding three years or fine not exceeding Rs. 10000.
- Section 140: A person shall be liable under this section if he intentionally cut off the electricity or injure or attempts to cut off the electricity or injure.
Punishment: Maximum fine of Rs. 10000.
WHETHER SECTION 379 OF IPC IS APPLICABLE?
Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code talks about the theft of movable property. This section penalises all kinds of theft of movable property. This question is often raised that whether Section 379 of IPC will be applicable in case of electricity theft.
- In Avtar Singh vs. State of Punjab, the Apex court stated that “electricity being not considered to be a movable property, there cannot be theft thereof within the meaning of Section 379 I.P.C.”
- In Biswanath Patra vs Divisional Engineer (E) S And Lp, the High Court of Calcutta has held that “once a person is said to have committed an alleged offence of theft of electricity, no case under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 would lie in view of the specific provision of law contained in the Electricity Act, 2003 in this regard.”
- In Syed Yaqoob Syed Masood vs The State of Maharashtra And Anr it was observed that “electricity is energy and not property.”
It is cleared from the above case analysis that Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code will not be applicable on Electricity Theft as there is a special statute for that.
- Torrent Power Aec Ltd. vs. Gayatri Intermediates Pvt. Ltd.
The High Court of Gujarat held that “The special court constituted under Section 153 or sub-section (5) of section 154 is being empowered to decide the quantum of civil liability in the case of power theft”.
- Suresh Ganpati Halvankar vs. The State of Maharashtra.
The Supreme Court held that “interference with the electric meter under Section 138 of the Electricity Act, 2003 is a compoundable offence.”
- MP Electricity Board v. Harsh Wood Products.
In this case the SC held that, “Whenever a licensee prima facie finds that the consumer has committed the theft of electricity, the licensee without giving an opportunity of being heard or without any notice disconnects the line and the line is restored only after the consumer compensates to the licensee.”
Power theft has become rampant in our country with number of cases increasing every day. Electricity theft has a direct link with the non-technical losses faced by the electric department of our country. India has made strict laws to keep a check on power theft but there is still need of even more stringent laws to curb this problem. Because of this our utilities are running into loss and it also gave rise to the tariffs. If this problem is not stopped then we will be left with no electricity to consume.
 [2012 (2) SCC 108]
 AIR 1965 SC 666
 AIR 2007 Cal 189
 CRIMINAL APPLICATION NO. 4415 OF2017 decided on February 9, 2018
 (2006) 2 GLR 1580
 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.156 OF 2018
 1996 SCC (4) 522