Power theft accused cannot escape civil liability

The Madras High Court bench here has ruled that people accused of power theft cannot escape from their civil liability.

Madurai: The Madras High Court bench here has
ruled that people accused of power theft under the Electricity
Act, 2003, cannot escape from their civil liability to pay the
assessed charges to restore supply, irrespective of whether
they choose to compound (forbear prosecution in exchange for
money) the criminal offences or not.

Justice V. Ramasubramanian disposing of 29 writ petitions
by individuals,accused of using domestic power connections for
commercial purposes, meter tampering or using agricultural
service connections for non-agricultural purposes. They had
challenged provisional and final assessment notifications of
the TNEB.

The judge said a Special Court, trying the cases under Sec
135 of the Act could determine the criminal as well as civil
liability of an accused who chooses to face criminal
prosecution without compounding the offence.If the offence was
compounded thereby ousting the jurisdiction of the Special
Court, then TNEB officials could determine the civil liability
and recover it as a sine quo non to restore power supply.

The petitioners contended that the legislation draws a
distinction between mere unauthorised use of electricity
without a dishonest intention under Sec 126 and intentional
theft of energy under Section 135.

There can be assessment and recovery of charges only under
Sec 126 and not Sec 135,leading to criminal prosecution ending
up either in acquittal or conviction, they claimed.

The judge rejected it saying a persual of Sec135(1) in
isolation gives an impression as though there is no question
of assessment under it though it empowers the Special Court
trying the offence to order imprisonment for a term not
exceeding three years and also imposing a fine three to six
times the financial gain made by the accused, depending on the
quantum of power stolen.

However,the doubt on assessment in cases of theft got
cleared after introduction of proviso 1-A to Sec135 through an
amendment in 2007,making it mandatory for authorities to
disconnect supply immediately on detection of energy theft.
They could also restore power supply if the accused deposits
the assessed amount.


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