Power theft accused cannot escape civil liability
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Last Updated: Friday, January 27, 2012, 14:36
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.


First Published: Friday, January 27, 2012, 14:36

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