14th February 1999
By Frederica Jansz
Answering questions on power piracy Ana Seneviratne, General Manager for the CEB said pirates are detected largely on petitions and complaints made by members of the public to the CEB. "A raid generally is carried out on a tip-off," he said.
Mr. Seneviratne asserted that the CEB this year is trying to embark on a more systematic approach, which will help nab those guilty of power piracy, on a more regular basis.
Mr. Seneviratne maintained that some people with a high electricity consumption resort to various methods of pirating power. "This maybe due to their huge bill, or at the same time they want the luxury but do not want to pay for it," he said. On the other hand poor people for example in the rural areas hardly steal because their consumption is very low. Yet it is common among shanty dwellers who do not have proper wiring in their huts to pirate power from the main supply lines, Mr. Seneviratne said.
Saying that at times his officers do meet with stiff opposition when carrying out a raid, Mr. Seneviratne claimed it is at places like the Maligawatte Housing Complex where organised gangs operate and threaten CEB officials preventing them from carrying out their duty. Mr. Seneviratne said that many companies registered with the Board Of Investment (BOI) have been found guilty of power piracy.
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon on February the 7th this year. The time was 2.30pm. Residing on the outskirts of Colombo a retired army officer Aluvihara and his family had just finished a heavy lunch and were preparing for an afternoon snooze when an ominous banging on the gate was heard. As the ex military officer prepared to investigate who was at his gate on a Sunday afternoon, the last thought on his mind was, that he would be nabbed for Power Piracy.
Standing outside his gate was a police officer from the Talangama police station, and two investigative officers from the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), 'Flying Squad' who acting on a tip-off had been told that Aluvihara was guilty of a criminal offence, tampering with the metering of electricity which had resulted in a shortfall of revenue of some Rs. 59,000. His power supply was stopped by the CEB and he was led to the police station where he was held in remand until he paid the outstanding balance of Rs. 59,000 together with a minimum fine of Rs. 5,000.
Aluvihara was found guilty of initiating pressure on the metal disk inside his electricity meter box, preventing the free rotation of the meter wheels and thereby reducing the record of the actual level of consumption.
Our investigation has found that 'Power Piracy' is a phenomenon most commonly resorted to in the Greater Colombo area. In 1998 the CEB Flying Squad detected 484 cases of power piracy in Colombo City only. In total the CEB nabbed 1,820 miscreants guilty of pirating electric power supply.
Monaro Group Security & Services Ltd, on the 16th of January this year were nabbed for a sum of Rs. 215800.86 for pirating electric power. The company had allegedly tampered with the electricity meter no. 209554 by obstructing the free rotation of the meter wheels, inserting a small stone inside the meter box between the digital wheel. As a result the meter wheels were unable to rotate and register the correct consumption of electricity.
The CEB flying squad in October last year raided the residence of A. de Silva, retired Senior Superintendent of Police living in Mount Lavinia. Electrical items found in use at the senior ex police officers residence included 3 air conditioners, 9 ceiling fans, 4 television sets, 4 irons, 2 rice cookers, an emersion heater, and boiler together with 50 electric bulbs a washing machine and water pump. The ex police officer was led to the Mount Lavinia police station and fined a total of Rs. 34,066.38.
Further investigations led to finding that officers from the CEB flying squad have been threatened with death by a top rung government politico. The head of the flying squad for the greater Colombo area, Mr. Teeman Perera, on the 1st of November 1995, made a statement to the Matugama police that he received a death threat from Mr. W.D. Karunaratne, Secretary to Anil Moonesinghe, Deputy Speaker of Parliament. As sparks began to fly over the raid, the Director of the CEB Special Investigative Branch, was forced to personally carry out the detection on the fuming politicos residence.
The Matugama court later held that evidence proved that Mr. Karunaratne had indeed tapped the overhead service wires securing an illegal supply of electricity to his residence, from an additional wire. The court ordered that he pay a fine of Rs. 5,000.
On the 20th of May last year, C & H Lanka (Pvt.) Limited, a major exporter at the Biyagama Free trade zone was charged Rs. 11,677,615.28 for tampering with the CEB electric metre. At the time CEB officials carried out the raid, the General Manager of the company G.B. Rajapakse (former head of Lake House), was immediately taken into custody and produced at the Magistrates Court Gampaha, with a claim of over Rs. one million for under billed electric supply.
The Chairman of the company Edwin A. Weerasinghe, and ex President for the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, on May 25th 1998, wrote to the Secretary, Ministry of Irrigation and Power, claiming that his firm had not done anything irregular and are not guilty of tampering with the metering of electricity. Mr. Weerasinghe however asked that time be granted to settle the outstanding sum of money in 15 monthly instalments.
The BOI firm has upto date paid Rs. 4 lakhs against the total amount due. Ralpanawe Associates, Attorneys-at-Law & Notaries, representing C & H Lanka, on June 26th 1998 wrote to the Officer In Charge of the Biyagama Police Station, informing him that a court injunction has been sought to prevent the CEB from cutting the supply of electricity until the entire amount of Rs. 11, 677,615.28 is paid.
According to a special investigative report by the CEB, C & H Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, had incorrectly poled the red, yellow and blue phase Current Transformer in order to reduce the recorded consumption of electricity. As a result of the Current Transformer being reversed the CEB meter records only 1/3 of the actual consumption of electricity.
Abdul Ali Sulaiman, ex Consul General in Sri Lanka for Togo, was furious when the CEB flying squad raided his residence at No. 415, Galle Road, Colombo 3 on December 19th 1996. Mr. Sulaiman is also the landlord of 'Pilawoos' Colpetty, the popular 24 hour restaurant. Mr. Sulaiman was fined some Rs. 3 lakhs, a sum he paid in four monthly instalments. At the time of the raid Mr. Sulaimans residence boasted among other electrical items, 7 air conditioners, 2 electric kettles, 8 fans, a deep freezer, refrigerator, washing machine and 2 colour television Sets.
When contacted by The Sunday Times Mr. Abdul Ali Sulaiman, now, All Island Justice of the Peace (JP) and President of the All Sri Lanka Justice of Peace Association, claims he was harassed by the CEB flying squad. He said that while the raid was conducted, due to the ensuing commotion a large crowd had gathered on the road outside his residence at Colpetty. Sulaiman however admitted paying the sum of Rs. 3 lakhs against loss of revenue to the CEB for the piracy of power from his residence.
Mr. Sulaiman maintains that the piracy had been done by a previous tenant who had occupied the house. "I did not know the meter had been tampered with," he said.
Just five months prior to this raid, on the 11th of July 1996,Wimal Wickremasinghe, former cabinet minister was charged the sum of Rs. 77,746.64 for being found guilty of power piracy.
At the ex Ministers residence at Malwatte Avenue, Nugegoda, the CEB flying squad detected that one of the live phase wires and the neutral wire of this supply were damaged at a point before the metering point in between the roof and the ceiling. As a result the electric supply was consumed without the consumption being recorded in the meter by connecting extra wires to the point that those wires were damaged.
Mr. Wimal Wickremasinghe's residence at the time of the raid, among other electrical items, had 41 electric lamps, 2 air conditioners, 3 refrigerators, a computer, micro oven and electric cooker.
A high powered official at the CEB who spoke on grounds of anonymity disclosed some methods practised to pirate power.
He said one of the more common methods is where a tiny hole is drilled on top of the meter cover and a small eikel is inserted bringing pressure and preventing the meter disk from turning.
Another way to pirate power, is to bridge the voltage coil from the bottom of the meter box. At the bottom of the meter there are four terminals, incoming and outgoing and two wires going out for input and output.
It is possible to bridge one wire if one has access to the bottom cover. Any meter comes sealed on the top but the bottom where the CEB actually gives electricity supply is where it is possible to connect the service wires. At this point the wires are bridged, thereby recording a lower level of electric consumption, providing then a false reading.
Yet another method is to break the seal of the glass, if it is removed, and allowed to rest on the wheel. It again will record a lower consumption of electricity. Power pirates then use a suction to pull the glass back in place, so it will not be possible to detect the offence.
A CEB official said that in many instances CEB employees themselves have been responsible for installing methods for power piracy.
"They do it for money" he said, adding for example, that after electric supply is given to a newly built house the service wire at the top of the ceiling is tampered with so it receives electric supply from the main overhead supply lines, bypassing the metering point.
Such raids by the CEB flying squad are normally conducted on a tip-off or petitions sent to the Chairman. Some of these are malicious while some are not.
Disclosures reveal that a retired army officer, former diplomat, bureaucrats, retired senior superintendent of police, and some leading companies are among those who have been classed as pirates by a state agency. They have all been detected by the Ceylon Electricity Board for pirating power.
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