Revenge of the fallen: A case of vanishing transformers

PESHAWAR: The palpable fear of power transformers disappearing in the dead of the night may just force denizens of the city to sleep with one eye open.

Safety of life and property is already a precarious business in the provincial capital, but theft of power transformers—though by no means a new phenomenon in the province—has plunged the suburban settlements of Peshawar into overarching darkness. It seems the thieves of Peshawar have found a way to avenge prolonged power outages, much to the indignation of fellow citizens.

Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) officials insist theft of transformers is not something new for the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but a relatively recent development in Peshawar. “Transformers’ theft in Peshawar has increased manifold over the past few years,” said a sub-divisional officer. According to official figures, eight transformers were stolen from areas of Tangi, Chamkani, Sikandarpura, Warsak Road and Shahi Bagh in February alone.

“Sub-division officials are responsible for transformers in their jurisdiction but how can we possibly guard them 24/7 in areas stretching over five to ten kilometres?” he questioned, adding only the police can keep an eye on entry points in their areas during the night.

Locals, on the other hand, blame load-shedding for enabling thieves to risk their lives and climb electricity poles. “We woke up one morning and learnt the transformer of our street vanished into thin air,” said Fahim Gul, a resident of Bakhshi Pul area. Gul said despite intervention from the local MPA, it took them one week to get the application for another unit processed. “Had the MPA not helped, it would have taken more than a month,” he said.

Numerous cases are reported every day where locals, irked by prolonged power cuts following transformer theft, take to the streets against Pesco for not replacing the equipment. FIRs are registered for every incident but investigation bears little fruit, said Nasirullah Mohmand, a Pesco employees’ union office bearer. “Dozens of transformers are stolen every month and people vent their frustration by vandalising company property,” he added.

Where do they go?

The rather riveting aspect of the entire ordeal is the way the transformers find their way back into the market, dismantled and sold in parts—with proficiency that would give the Frank Abagnales and Natwarlals a run for their money.

“Each unit has a number engraved on it, a record of which is maintained by Pesco bookkeepers, hence they cannot be resold within the city’s limits,” said Qari Azizullah, the owner of a private workshop in Shah Alam area on Charsadda Road.

Azizullah disclosed the stolen transformers are taken to adjacent tribal areas where master technicians butcher them to pieces. The coils are retrieved from the arteries of the transformers and later sold in bulk in Bara, Karkhano and Yaka Ghund. “All the high-grade coils available in the market are those stolen from Pesco’s transformers,” he maintained.

Azizullah doubted petty thieves are capable of stealing transformers. “Technicians and repairmen are hand-in-glove with the transformer mafia,” he said. He added only an expert can detach cables from the mighty device and retrieve it safely from electricity poles. The market price of a single coil varies between Rs10,000 to Rs32,000 while the entire apparatus is sold at prices ranging from Rs180,000 to Rs700,000.

When approached for comments, Pesco spokesperson Shaukat Afzal said the company simply cannot guard the 60,000 transformers it has installed across the province. “Locals need to be vigilant. Public awareness campaigns are under way in this regard,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2015. 

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