Citizens' Issues
Power theft: Why we need to introduce tamper-proof electricity connections

Efforts are being made to tackle power theft which is rampant. There is a need for the introduction of stricter and heavier punishments for corrupt officials who turn a blind eye to such activities


The Power Ministry is now on a war path to increase the generation of power. Ambitious plans are afoot to ensure greater coal production and to make it possible for speedy movement of coal from pitheads to centres of production.


At the same time, efforts are being made to tackle power theft which is rampant. In some states this is said to be as much as 40%.


The government plans to roll out meters on distribution transformers, feeders and consumers in urban areas and the Cabinet has approved the upgrading of old distribution networks, estimated to cost as much as Rs25,300 crore to tackle the rampant theft. This will take several years to complete.


The illegal users, who steal power, with impunity, can do so only with the connivance of crooked electricians and some officials in the electricity distribution companies. These people consider "free power" as their birth right and privilege due to poor policing. This is a big problem mainly due to corrupt officials who turn a blind eye to such activities.


Drawing of power from live overhead lines is a "child's game" and the dangling, loose wires on the roadside are a sore sight. There is no way a law abiding citizen knows if anyone in his own locality is actually drawing "free" power by plugging into the electricity connection junction boxes. This is because these are NOT tamper proof!


Take the case of Karnataka Slum Clearance Board (KSCB). They had completed 1,000 dwelling units in April 2013 and had allowed 900 allottees to "move" in. Almost from day one, these "residents" had been "enjoying" electricity supply! Everyone knows how long it takes to get the connection done and meter installed before the "power" is activated!


The Vigilance Squad officials raided, presumably on a tip off, and found that the residents had not only moved in much earlier to occupy the premises but were also drawing power from a live wire for the previous one and a half years, when the "work" was in "progress"!


Bescom, Bangalore Electricity Company has estimated the theft to be 3,000 kW per month causing a loss of Rs50 lakh, and the total loss is said to be over Rs5 crore during this period!


Arifulla Khan, Assistant Executive Engineer, Bescom, who unearthed the theft has estimated that between 2,600 kW and 3,000 kW of power has been illegally drawn every month and all these residents who were "enjoying" power had no "meters" installed and the area was at a stage of "sanction" and "execution of transformers", when this matter was uncovered by him.


Further investigations have revealed that the power was being drawn from a live power line that supplied electricity to another layout in JP Nagar. The thieves had used loose wires and cables to carry out this illegal operation. Press reports indicate that the KSCB officials are culpable and the assistant executive engineer, executive engineer and others responsible for the theft". Full investigations are in process.


Section 135 of the Electricity Act, covering illegal tapping, theft and usage of electricity has detailed rules relating to the action that can be taken against such miscreants. From a meagre fine, imprisonment for repeat offender goes to a maximum of 5 years. If this is not a deterrent, it would be good idea to review the rules.


If the Prime Minister is serious to give uninterrupted power supply to the whole country he must ensure that this illegal tapping must be stopped. Hooking on to a live wire and drawing of power through easily openable junction/connection boxes should be prevented by installing tamper-proof meters and introduction of advanced software that can alert sudden increase in power consumption in registered areas where meters have been installed. All the "poojas" and "pandals" where religious function and even marriage functions take place, power is found to be drawn from "live" power lines in the area.


Vigilance Squads must be more vigilant in stopping this illegal practice.


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


Utah's Dark Logic: Keeping Consumer Complaints Sealed's push to get the state to disclose vital consumer records


If you are interested in purchasing a product or service from a company based in Utah and want to research how other consumers have fared, you are going to be hobbled in your efforts.

Government officials refuse to release consumer complaints filed with state agencies or even confirm if they have received any complaints against a company.

I have been at this effort for more than three months, trying to get copies of any consumer complaints filed with the state’s Department of Commerce consumer division against WakeUpNow, a Utah-based multilevel marketing company that we have received complaints about. I was turned down twice by the Department of Commerce and again when appealed to the State Records Committee earlier this month.

Utah contends that these records cannot be disclosed because they are considered “investigatory records;” that state laws bar it from disclosing the names of any individual or entity under investigation unless the identity has become a matter of public record in an enforcement proceeding; and that a business’s reputation could be harmed if consumers find out that other consumers have filed complaints with the state.

This stance is baffling and quite unusual.

My request under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) was routine. As editor of I often file Freedom of Information requests when investigating a company or to follow up on a complaint sent in by a reader. This is because it is vital to find out about the experiences other consumers have had with a company and their efforts to get state and federal officials to investigate it. Most states make these complaints available, with many even posting searchable databases on line.


The Federal Trade Commission, charged with consumer protection, also makes these complaints readily available, whether they are taking enforcement action against a company or not. In fact, I discovered through a Freedom of Information request to the FTC that there have been more than 160 complaints against WakeUpNow. But Utah, where the company is based, will not disclose complaints it has received to its own citizens.

Indeed, even if a company has 1,000 complaints against it, it is “irrelevant” for consumers to know, Assistant Attorney General Ché Arguello told the Records Committee in arguing that was not entitled to any consumer complaints. The state maintains these records are only relevant if the state determines the business violated state laws and Utah takes action against it.

That’s a mighty big if.

Despite the position taken by the Records Committee, Utah officials can release these records now if they want to. There is plenty of authority in state statutes to allow for this.

First, there is nothing in Utah’s laws that deem that complaints are “investigatory records.” In fact, the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act, cited by the state in its denial, specifically states its purpose is to “protect consumers from suppliers who commit deceptive and unconscionable sales practices.” By giving consumers access to the complaints, it protects consumers by enabling them to make informed decisions about whether to do business with a company.

Also, there is this section of Utah’s GRAMA statutes that trumps all: It states that a government agency, even if deeming a record protected, can still disclose them if “the interests favoring access are greater than or equal to the interest favoring restriction of access.”

Perfect, right? Because it is in the interest of consumers to know if companies in Utah have complaints against them and what action, if any, the state has taken. By keeping consumers in the dark about this, state agencies can act in secrecy, choosing whether to bring an action against a company or not without any oversight.

The danger of a public agency acting behind closed doors was specifically addressed by Utah’s own Supreme Court in a 1984 case addressing public records (which we think these are) in which it stated:

The court recognizes that it is the policy of this state that public records be kept open for public inspection to prevent secrecy in public affairs.

I trust that consumers know a complaint is just that, a complaint, whether it is voiced in an online consumer forum, a letter sent to a consumer group or filed with the state. And consumers should be able to view all of that information.

We will have our say before the Records Committee again next month, during an appeal of another request for consumer complaints that were filed against three e-cigarette companies that the state took action against because, wait for it, “state investigators received hundreds of consumer complaints from across the country.” And yet, neither nor consumers, as it currently stands, can see these complaints that prompted the investigation even though the state fined and cited the companies and made the names of the company public in a press release. Huh? Perhaps if consumers had access to these complaints during all the months it took for the state to take enforcement action, they wouldn’t have become a victim to the companies’ schemes.

Let’s hope by December state officials have come to their senses. And if not, then the state should heed the advice of the Salt Lake City Tribune’s editorial board which wrote that the Utah legislatures should clarify the law and make sure Consumer Protection Division records are open to the public.



The Two Things That Rarely Happen After a Medical Mistake

Patients seldom are told or get an apology when they are harmed during medical care, according to a new study based on results from ProPublica’s Patient Harm Questionnaire.


This story was co-published with NPR's Shots blog.

Patients who suffer injuries, infections or mistakes during medical care rarely get an acknowledgment or apology, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report.

The study was based on responses of 236 patients who completed ProPublica's Patient Harm Questionnaire during the one-year period ending in May 2013 and who agreed to share their data.

Results of the study, led by professor of surgery Marty Makary and conducted independently from ProPublica, were published online Nov. 13 by the Journal of Patient Safety. The study found:

• It was common for health care providers to withhold information about medical mistakes. Only 9 percent of patients said the medical facility voluntarily disclosed the harm.

• When officials did disclose harm it was often because they were forced to. Nine percent of respondents said the harm was only acknowledged under pressure.

• Apologies were infrequent. Only 11 percent of patients or their family members reported getting an apology from a provider.

• More than 30 percent reported paying bills related to the harm. The average cost:


Another study last year in the Journal of Patient Safety estimated that at least 210,000 U.S. hospital patients a year die from medical mistakes. Yet while the problem is widespread, Makary and his research team wrote, there is little research into how patients feel about experiencing medical harm.

Clinicians may see the need to be more open with patients but lack the "moral courage" to do it, researchers said. Patient advocates and providers should work together on how to best inform patients, and medical schools and training programs can introduce the needed skills, they said.

The authors cautioned that because their findings are from a self-selected sample of patients it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions about patient harm or disclosure.

As of today, more than 600 people have volunteered to complete ProPublica's Patient Harm Questionnaire, including participants in the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project, which shared the survey.

The questionnaire helps ProPublica's reporters find stories and trends. Only respondents who first consented to participate were included in Makary's research.

Help us investigate patient safety: Patients who have been harmed, or their loved ones, are invited to complete our questionnaire. Researchers interested in the data can email reporter Marshall Allen at [email protected].




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