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Getting tough on the menace of gas pilferage

Collecting gas from gas fields, transporting it to over hundreds of kilometers through large pipelines, and then distributing it to varied consumers across a wide geographical span, is no simple task. From the freezing Quetta Region surrounded by snow-capped mountains to the scorching Sibi and Indus-embracing Sukkur to the ever expansive Karachi, SSGC’s gas transmission and distribution networks provide a steady supply of the natural gas, the least expensive and most environment friendly of all fossil fuels.

Natural gas is the biggest source of primary energy with a share of 43 per cent in Pakistan’s energy mix. Pakistan also possesses one of the largest gas pipeline networks in the world, nearing some 150,000 kilometres, for gas distribution and transmission, servicing more than 9 million customers. However, one of the key technical issues being faced by utility companies around the world and in Pakistan is line losses or Unaccounted-for-Gas (UFG). In Pakistan, UFG generally accounts for more than 10 per cent of the total gas supplied but goes all the way up to 60 per cent in some areas.

Since the last several years, the Company has been struggling to remain robust financially but one of the major challenges in the way of strong financial numbers is that of UFG. Among the largest contributors of financial losses to the company is the rising trend of `Unaccounted-for-Gas’ (UFG) which, in simpler terms, can be defined as the difference between the purchase and sale of gas. UFG is a very serious issue since every 1 per cent increase in UFG means that Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), in such a case, takes away Rs1.2 billion from the gas companies’ financial profits as a penalty, thus severely affecting their financial bottom-line.

The major contributing factor in UFG is theft of natural gas. Theft does not only affect the gas companies financially but also causes an annual loss of around Rs. 50 billion to the national exchequer. It is a national issue which is why Prime Minister Imran Khan recently directed for a countrywide crackdown on gas thieves.

Although in the past, legislation was promulgated to rein in gas theft, efforts made by the gas companies to control gas theft could not make much progress. Moreover, instead of paying their gas bills, a number of consumers in domestic, commercial and industrial sectors resorted to using the fuel illegally in clear violation of the Gas Sales Agreement (GSA). Such consumers bypassed gas meters, and ran heavy generators using unauthorised connections, damaged transmission lines, tampered gas pipelines and meters and managed to get away with the crime scot-free.

In 2016, National Assembly of Pakistan passed Gas (Theft and Recovery Act) that allowed the imposition of heavy penalties on offenders engaged in various types of gas theft with a maximum punishment of 14 years and a penalty up to Rs100 million. Hence, SSGC, faced by rising levels of UFG, was driven by the Act to take stringent measures against gas theft cases. It was high time the Company got tough against the scourge of gas theft.

In 2017, the Company’s Security Department was revamped as the Security Services and Control Gas Theft Operations (SS & CGTO) Department. The newly formed department was constituted with intelligence, security, prosecution and operations wings formed to effectively carry out anti-gas theft operations. In conjunction with SSGC Police that was established back in 2015 and other law enforcement agencies including Sindh Rangers and Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), the department started making regular raids against domestic, commercial and industrial units.

Numbers speak for themselves. Since July 2017, SS & CGTO Department has undertaken 220 intelligence based operations across Sindh and Balochistan by conducting the raids on those domestic, commercial and industrial units that were involved in blatant gas theft under the title “Operation Grift” campaign. Overall, the department has conducted around 1,370 raids as part of the ‘Operation Grift’. Some 220 miscreants have been arrested and FIRs have been lodged against 475 wrong doers.

SSGC’s efforts have been further boosted by the establishment of more than 35 Gas Utility Courts in Sindh and Balochistan, as defined in the Act, to take punitive action against the offenders and serve them punishment commensurate with the type of theft committed. The Act spurs a common citizen into playing a proactive role in prosecuting the wrong doers. Section 25 of Gas Act 2016 specifically states that if an incident of a bona fide theft is reported to the Company, the reporting individual, as per law, will be eligible to 5 per cent of the recovered amount.

While on the ground, SSGC continues its relentless drive against gas thieves, the Company’s Corporate Communication Department is regularly running media campaigns in print, electronic social media and digital media publications about this menace. The aim is to mobilize the stakeholders about this crime against community so that they too stand with SSGC to combat it. SSGC’s current mass media anti-gas theft campaign is primarily aimed at the rising tide of industrial theft. The advertisements carry strong messages, warning the miscreants against unauthorized enhancement of gas loads and installation of the suction booster in industrial units, both of which can land them in trouble.

To root out what is bad in the society is never easy. Team SSGC is, however, determined to counter gas theft and the inroads it has made during the last about one year is a manifestation of its steadfastness against this major misdemeanour. Gas theft is a crime against community and SSGC’s true success to uproot it will be ensured only with a concerted effort from the government, the general public and the media.

The contributor is a Chief Manager (Corporate Communications) in SSGC

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