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Wednesday Dec 01 2021
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Schools without electricity: The case of solar panel theft in South Punjab

A file photo of Government Primary School in East Vehari. Photo: Courtesy https://ecp.gov.pk/
A file photo of Government Primary School in East Vehari. Photo: Courtesy https://ecp.gov.pk/

For the last four months, students at a primary school in Punjab’s Vehari district have been forced to study without electricity, after the school’s solar power system was stolen.

The solar panels disappeared on July 9, Muhammad Shahid, the headmaster of a Government Primary School told Geo.tv. Soon after, Shahid filed a complaint of theft with the Tibba Sultanpur police station. In the first information report (FIR), the headmaster nominated three people.

No attempts have been made as yet to arrest the accused, he added.

Disappointed, Shahid then lodged a new application with the Complaint Cell of the Inspector-General Police, Punjab. “After my application, I received a call from the Deputy Superintendent of Police’s office,” the headmaster said, “The official assured me that the solar system would soon be recovered and all the accused would be apprehended. But nothing happened.”

There are over 83 students studying at Shahid’s primary school. As fog intensifies in the province this winter, he worries that due to reduced sunlight it would be even more difficult for the students to continue studying.

Muhammad Altafur Rehman, another headmaster of a local school in Vehari, has a similar tale to tell. He approached the police on April 20 to recover the solar panels, dry batteries and inverters that went missing from school premises. No progress has been made in his case either to date.

In fact, in district Vehari, this year, 18 cases of theft of solar systems from schools have been reported, while 18 first information reports (FIR) have been registered, as per data shared by Punjab’s energy department.

Schools without electricity: The case of solar panel theft in South Punjab

Under Punjab’s Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, all primary schools in the province are being converted to solar electricity, to provide uninterrupted, clear energy to every school, even those that are off-the-grid. The $86 million project, to power all 15,000 primary schools in Punjab by solar technology, has been bankrolled by the Asia Development Bank.

But there is one problem: who will secure the new technology?

“Due to unavailability of security guards at schools, at least 174 cases related to theft of solar panels have been reported from the schools of South Punjab and 117 FIRs have been lodged between January 2020 and November 2021,” said an official from the government of Punjab energy department, who asked not to be named, as he was not allowed to speak to the media.

According to data available with Geo.tv, this year, 190 PV modules, 116 batteries, 98 inverters, 122 fans, 13 lights, and 16 DB boxes have been stolen from schools in South Punjab. Majority of the theft has been reported from Rahim Yar Khan, followed by Multan.

A school official from district Rahim Yar Khan, who asked not to be named, said that the equipment is stolen and then sold in the markets.

Qaiser Rasheed, the additional secretary budget and planning at Punjab’s School Education Department, said that his department said that gangs operating in Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan had been involved in theft of solar panels.

For now, to protect the equipment, Rasheed’s department has decided to recruit personnel on the posts of chowkidars/security guards for the schools. It has further directed all concerned departments to register FIRs with the police stations of the area.

But it is unclear how much longer the students of primary schools in Punjab will have to study without electricity.