Electricity theft: Consumers let off, electrician who tampered with meters to face trial in 31 FIRs
The bench of justice Deepak Gupta held that under Section 152 of The Electricity Act, 2003, the composition is permissible only with a consumer or any person, who committed or is reasonably suspected of having committed an offence of electricity theft as per Section 135 of The Electricity Act.
A Gurugram electrician will now face criminal proceedings in 31 FIRs of meter-tampering as Punjab and Haryana high court (HC) has dismissed his plea of quashing these FIRs.
The bench of justice Deepak Gupta held that under Section 152 of The Electricity Act, 2003, the composition is permissible only with a consumer or any person, who committed or is reasonably suspected of having committed an offence of electricity theft as per Section 135 of The Electricity Act. “The offence of interference with meters or works of licence as provided under Section 138 of The Electricity Act is a separate and distinct offence, which is not compoundable, because it is only the offence of electricity theft, which has been made compoundable by the Legislature,” the bench recorded while dismissing his plea.
Electricity department officials had inspected the premises of consumers in Dhankot village and found them indulging in electricity theft. The loss caused to the department and the compounding charges were assessed for each consumer separately and the consumers were intimated in this regard by way of separate notices. Since the theft penalty amount was not deposited by the consumers, the department lodged the FIRs against consumers in 2019. Subsequently, consumers paid up the penalty amount ranging between ₹50,000 to ₹1.2 lakh and criminal proceedings were dropped against them but proceedings continued against the petitioner, Surajbhan, who was stated to be the person who tampered with the meters for ₹5,000 from each consumer. Now, the challan stands presented against him under Section 135, 138 and 150 of The Electricity Act, 2003.
He had argued in court that all the FIRs were registered against the consumers, who have paid the theft money by making payment of the composition fee and so, offences stand compounded. Petitioner is neither the beneficiary nor involved in the offence in any matter nor named in the FIR. He has been implicated on the basis of his own disclosure statement that he had tempered the electricity meters of the consumers involved in the said FIRs. The disclosure statement has no evidentiary value and since the offences in question are compoundable and the consumers have already paid the composition fee, so continuation of the criminal proceedings against the petitioner would be unjust, unfair and illegal.
The department in response had submitted that argument of compounding of the offence is misconceived, as he is neither the consumer of the department nor has any relation with the department. Rather, he is a third party, who was instrumental and was acting in league with the co-accused, as he had caused the tampering of the electricity meters of various consumers, leading to substantial loss to the department, it was submitted seeking dismissal of the petitions.
The court observed that the allegations in this case against the petitioner are regarding tampering of the electricity meters of the various consumers, which is a distinct and separate offence and the same is not compoundable.
The court dismissed all the 31 pleas, however, gave him liberty to request the trial court to club trial in all the FIRs.