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Archive for July 15th, 2009

When in Doubt, Get a Fatwa

The Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) has reportedly obtained a fatwa [religious decree] from 12 senior Islamic scholars against the theft of electricity, which is costing the company 1 billion rupees ($12.3 million) a month. KESC spokeswoman Ayesha Eirabie told Reuters, “It is astonishing and disturbing to find that certain segments of our society do not even consider theft of electricity ‘theft’, let alone immoral or illegal.”

What exactly is power theft? Typically, noted Reuters, people steal electricity by hooking up a wire to overhead electricity cables, subsequently siphoning off power without paying for it. People can also steal power by slowing down their electricity meters. Eirabie stated, “Most of the people who steal electricity can afford to pay for it but they choose not to…it’s very important for such people to know that electricity theft is illegal, immoral and not acceptable as is any other form of theft.”

While stealing power has an obvious effect on the industry’s revenue, it also disrupts electricity distribution, thereby impacting load-shedding [a rolling blackout that occurs when demand exceeds electricity supply].  Although power shortages are the unfortunate norm in Pakistan, the situation has recently gotten worse. On June 17 and 18, Karachi was paralyzed when millions lost electricity for 19 hours, and on July 11, street protests occurred “after rain and high winds again brought power cuts,” reported the BBC. The issue can be linked to a number of causes, including power theft, increases in demand, and a lack of investment in infrastructure. What is interesting, though, is how the problem appears to be cyclical – that is, the more power is stolen, the more power shortages occur, and the more likely power theft is to increase in its wake.

The fatwa obtained by the KESC is therefore an attempt to not only address the situation, but give it religious legitimacy. In the decree, the religious scholars asserted, “The illicit use of any commodity is a sin and as in this case, the organization producing electricity represents many people. Its use without permission and pay makes it an even bigger sin. Legal action against such people committing electricity theft is fair.” According to BBC News, the fatwa also “directed Muslims to pay back an amount equal to the power they had stolen.”

The KESC’s actions are not surprising given the billions of rupees they stand to lose each year from power theft. However, a major corporation using religious fatwas to bolster their campaign is frankly a little ironic. What do you think?

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