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BEST cracks down on power theft by Ganesh mandals

Joining hands with the police, BEST intends to come down hard on the mandals to prevent the rampant use of illegal power supply during Ganeshotsav

With bright lighting and blaring music, celebrations at most Ganpati pandals in the city scream high voltage. It might not be long before the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) pulls the plug on at least some of them, however, with the undertaking now cracking down on mandals using illegal electricity supply during the festival.

Ganpati mandals use electricity to power lights and loudspeakers at the various pandals during Ganeshotsav. PIC for representation/Suresh KK
Ganpati mandals use electricity to power lights and loudspeakers at the various pandals during Ganeshotsav. PIC for representation/Suresh KK

Rampant practice
In the past five days alone, the authority has caught 11 mandals with unauthorised power connections. Using unregistered electric connections has become a rampant practice amongst Ganpati mandals in the city over the years. Put together, all the Ganpati mandals in the city use about 14 megawatt per day, to power the decorative lights and the music at the pandals. While there are no official statistics, it is estimated that at least three to four per cent of the mandals have illegal power connections.

To curb the practice and catch the offenders, the Bombay High Court had, on August 11, asked the Mumbai police to coordinate with BEST in its drive. This year, BEST has provided connections to 1,290 mandals between Sion/Mahim and Colaba. Most of the 11 mandals caught with illegal connections so far are in areas such as Dadar and Dharavi.

During last year’s celebrations, BEST gave connections to 1,274 mandals, and caught 44 for illegally using electricity.

Low conviction rate
Despite the risk of getting caught, however, mandals continue to flout regulations because the conviction rate for electricity theft is very low. For a conviction to come through, officials need to prove that the electricity theft took place with ‘malicious intent’, or the intention of making some commercial gain from it. Sources said, “There are a high number of acquittals, as under the Maharashtra Electricity Regulation Commission (MERC) Act we have to prove that an illegal connection was obtained with a malicious intent. Most of the times when BEST officials go to a mandal with an illegal connection, the mandal members pay the fine, and therefore no chargesheet is filed. Also, it is difficult to keep track of all the mandals in the city.”

In the past five years, there have been 400 acquittals in cases of electricity theft, and only 12 convictions. This year, O P Gupta, general manager of BEST confirmed that the undertaking was collaborating with police authorities to fast track the cases as they came.

BEST’s action plan

>> BEST and police officials will meet mandals and inform them of stricter consequences for electricity theft
>> BEST to crosscheck with police’s list of mandals with legal connections to ensure no theft takes place
>> BEST’s vigilance department to form squads alongwith police officials.
>> Will adopt a proactive approach to fast-track pending cases of theft by mandals with the help of police authorities

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