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HindustanTimes Fri,11 Jul 2014

Reward to power thieves: connections now regular

Harjinder Sidhu, Hindustan Times  Bathinda, March 19, 2013
First Published: 23:54 IST(19/3/2013) | Last Updated: 23:55 IST(19/3/2013)

Rewarding electricity thieves, Punjab state power corporation limited (PSPCL) has regularised their illegal and non-existing tube-well connections.

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Using pressure from farmers' unions as an excuse and ignoring legal opinion, the PSPCL has decided to regularise 109 tube-well connections in Bhagta Bhai Ka subdivision of Bathinda district under the "own your tube-well" (OYT) scheme, for which court had convicted many of its officials.

Political pressure is behind the move, say sources in the department (identity withheld to save them from backlash). Set in motion before the 2012 assembly elections, the move was implemented after the alliance's return to power.

The opinion that was ignored
The PSPCL board of directors took the decision (HT has a copy) on August 30, 2012, in Mohali. "Resolved that approval be and is hereby accorded to regularise 109 unauthorised tubewell connections under Bhagta Bhai Ka subdivision, subject to condition that the consumer will deposit the total cost of providing these connections at current prices," reads a memorandum signed by the under secretary of the PSPCL at Patiala and sent to the chief engineer (west zone) in Bathinda and other officials concerned.

On December 8, 2011, the law officer of the west zone chief engineer submitted in his opinion that the illegal tube-well connections had not been released without the holders' connivance, so they had no legal right to seek that these be made regular. Taking the legitimate expectation of the agricultural trade unions as excuse for regularising the connections would become a bad precedent, the officer had said.

The regularisation of 46 connections would also weaken the prosecution's criminal case pending in the court, the legal opinion had highlighted.

Case history
In June 2005, based on HT report "Kundis work tubewells in Bathinda" (June 29, 2005), the erstwhile Punjab state electricity board (PSEB) top brass had ordered a high-level investigation.

The report had exposed a big racket to allow illegal connections by tampering with record. Besides, illegal drawing from electricity transmission lines, the release of multiple connections to families had also come to light.

Many officials in the board, including senior executive engineer Mohinder Partap Singh Dhillon and subdivisional officer Jasbir Singh, were indicted in the scam and the department took action against them.

In August 2005, against 53 people, including officials and farmers, the board registered a criminal case under Sections 420 (cheating), 465 (punishment for forgery), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery of court or public register), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as Section 39 (theft of energy) of the Indian Electricity Act of 1910.

Of the suspects, 46 were farmers from Sukhanand, Kotha Guru, Buraj Ladha, Dialpura Bhai Ka, Maluka, Hamirgarh, Akalia, and Neur villages. During scrutiny, the board had found 46 connections unauthorised, 27 running on forged documents, and 19 that didn't exist in any record.

The board officials had made false entries in the record to show these farmers as paying regular bills. Some of them had also issued fake passbooks to farmers. Junior engineers Jagdev Singh, Gurbakhash Singh, Sucha Singh, and Bachitar Singh; assistant engineer Mohan Lal; upper division clerk Sarbjit Singh; and consumer clerk Ramesh Singh were seen as involved in the scam.

The scandal involved splitting 63 tube-well connections. In January 2012, the Bathinda district and sessions judge convicted the guilty officials. However, the PSPCL not only allowed them continue with the illegal connections but also now has decided to regularise these in an unprecedented decision. 
 
Inside opinion
It was second time in the last month when farmers' unions were not let into Bathinda. What kind of pressure from farmers are they talking about. Have you ever heard about farmers' protesting over such an illegal demand? When has the government ever accepted even a genuine demand of farmers? Pressure from farmers unions' is just an excuse.
A Powercom official

The PSPCL board of directors has made a policy decision in its meeting. The directors are like God to us. They are supreme power. We cannot interfere in their decision or comment on it. I know some people were convicted in the scam. I have no comment on the legal opinion too.

Inderjit Garg, PSPCL superintending engineer in Bathinda

I can comment neither on the decision of the board of directors nor on the legal opinion. Users have been told to submit the full fee for the connection under the 'own your tubewell' scheme.
GS Dhaliwal, PSPCL chief engineer in west zone

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