Seven SNGPL officials suspended as 3,000 industrial meters go ‘missing’ in Lahore

LAHORE: Over 3,000 used high-pressure gas meters (both industrial and commercial) and other precious material have either been ‘stolen, embezzled or misplaced’ allegedly by various officials in connivance with their seniors as well as the private people.

Since the official sources term embezzlement of a large number of meters (total 3,100) worth millions a first-ever major scam in the history of SNGPL, the issue was kept hidden from Board of Directors (BoD) in a bid to protect the officials concerned.

“A huge number of meters has been embezzled at SNGPL’s Central Meter Shop situated at Kot Lakhpat. These included high-flow capacity meters (i.e. 5M, 16M, 38M, 56M) which are used at big industries. The meters were diaphragm, rotary and I-meters type,” an official source told Dawn on Tuesday.

“These meters were stolen during the last one and a half years or so,” he added.

Official dispels impression that gadgets can be used for gas theft

From July 2021 to December 2022, as many as 3,500 scrapped meters, around 200 bags full of scrapped parts of meters and one flow-prover machine were dispatched from central meter shop (Kot Lakhpat) to the company’s Manga store. The dispatches were made through 70 [dispatch] advices. However, only around 400 scrapped meters were received at the Manga store against 10 dispatch advices (DAs) while all the meters mentioned in the remaining 60 DAs have been embezzled and were never delivered to the company’s store at Manga.

These meters were fraudulently stolen with roguish intentions. The embezzled meters and parts are absolutely of no use to anyone except those involved in gas theft. The parts of such meters are used in other meters for tampering as many wrongdoings have been detected by various distribution field officers of the company in parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – the SNGPL’s service areas.

“In various cases, it also proved that meters’ internal parts were found replaced for the purpose of gas pilferage,” he explained. “These meters are also used as a replacement with functional meters installed at various factories for a short time before noting the actual reading by the officials. Before noting the reading (7 to 10 days), such meters are removed and replaced with the actual ones in a bid to show less reading in the record and benefit the consumers in bills,” he added.

The official said the record related to stolen meters has also been misplaced to hide identity of the consumers concerned. And if the record about the meters detected to be used in gas theft cases, the court cases against gas pilferers cannot be established, giving an ultimate benefit to [gas] thieves.

The official said the physical count conducted by the company’s finance department has also identified a shortfall during inventory checking. As per company procedure, he said, the meters declared ‘not repairable’ are kept in safe custody for 10-year age, but in this ‘scam’ the ‘meters declared not repairable’, prior to 10-year age have been fictitiously dispatched to Manga store, which never reached there and were embezzled eventually.

“It is alarming to note that even after installation of trackers on vehicles in July 2022 (as per BoD advice), at more than 20 occasions, meters were dispatched from July 2022 to October 2022 but the vehicles never reached the store to deliver the gadgets. Moreover, no one in the high-ups bothered to cross-check vehicle movement from tracking system,” he said.

The record has also been tampered with by forging signatures of Manga store officials on a few DAs while meters were not delivered to the store against these advices.

All four copies (original and three copies) of those DAs (which are not received at the Manga store) are available in the DA book. No one in the higher-ups bothered to notice this fact. The existence of all four copies of DAs in books substantiate the stance of the store officials that signatures of store officials on a few DAs are fake.

There is neither a system in place at central metering shop to identify scrapped meters and ‘meters declared not repairable’ separately, nor there is a way to reconcile the dispatching of these meters. This shows gross negligence and suspected abetment of officers concerned.

He said on the other hand the senior officials are hiding the facts from BoD and portraying the scam ‘insignificant’.

When contacted, neither the SNGPL MD nor the senior general manager concerned were available for comments. However, an official, who wished not to be named, said a detailed inquiry is currently underway against an executive and six junior officials.

“It is true that the meters were dispatched time to time to the Manga store from Kot Lakhpat. However, many of them didn’t reach there. It all happened during transportation of the meters and the material. This all was just a scrap and nothing more. Though the meters and other scrap can be sold in the market, they cannot be used for gas theft or any other activity. A system is in place to check such practices (meter replacement, tampering etc),” the official said adding the weight of each meter is about 40kg or so. And the most precious material available in these meters is aluminum, he said.

He claimed that after the senior officers came to know about the issue, they got a first information report instituted against some officials. Later, a fact-finding inquiry was launched. The probe, according to him, held an executive and six junior officials responsible for such incidents. “Later, they were suspended from service. And now a detailed inquiry is under way,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2023