With great fanfare, the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited had a few months back launched a drive to detect power thefts across the State to nab and fine those who use electricity illegally. But MSEDCL apparently closed its eyes to the going-ons within as it has now come to light that the company itself has been supplying around 2.5 mega watt of electricity to 195 "unauthorised" sawmills in and around Pune city every day.

The shocking revealation came to light after Mahesh Mahajan, an activist and founder of Friends of Nature Association, filed a Right to Information Act (RTI) application with the forest department in May 2007, which provided him with the information that there are 195 unauthorised sawmills operating in and around Pune. He has also brought the issue of illegal power supply to sawmills to the notice of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC).

"I had sought information from the forest department regarding as to how many unauthorised sawmills are operating in and around Pune. I filed the application in May 2007 and received the information that there are 195 sawmills in the Pune division of the forest dept. After this, we carried out a survey to check the real situation and found out that within Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, there are 150 unauthorised sawmills while the rest are in the adjoining areas like Talegaon Dabhade. In some cases, we also observed that the electricity supply is reconnected for office use and then the same is being used for unauthorised saw mills on the premises."
Of the 150 illegal saw mills in Pune and PCMC limits, 100 are in Pune city while the remaining ones are in PCMC limits and each sawmill consumes electricity in the range of 75 KW to 150 KW.

When contacted, MSEDCL chief engineer of Pune Division R B Gautam said, "We are aware of this issue. MSEDCL and the forest department together are going to launch a survey to get the complete picture. We will come out with a report in a couple of days based on which we will initiate our action. We will disconnect the power supply of the defaulters."

With survey report and facts from forest department in his possession, Mahajan took up the issue of illegal sawmills with MSEDCL office in Pune on November 27. When no action was initiated, activists gheraoed MSEDCL officials in Talegaon Dabhade. "We argued that when Talegaon Dabhade was facing load-shedding for 7-8 hours, why were illegal sawmills being catered to?"

Giving into the pressure, MSEDCL disconnected supply of two unauthorised saw mills in Talegaon. "In all, they might have disconnected the power supply of 29 sawmills so far. However , they have not initiated any action against the sawmills in city areas," he said.

195 illegal sawmills getting power supply from MSEDCL