Independent Lens: Powerless

About This Episode

A cat-and-mouse game of electricity theft unfolds in Kanpur, India, a city that once prided itself as “the Manchester of the East” for its many factories, but now many of its three million people cannot afford their power bills. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that means outlaw electricians like Loha Singh risk life and limb to connect the disconnected.

To Loha and many other frustrated locals, the real enemy is Ritu Maheshwari, the first female chief of the Kanpur Electricity Supply Company (KESCO). But she sees herself as on a mission to eliminate powerlessness. Electricity theft accounts for nearly 30 percent of all losses to KESCO, aggravating the crisis, and she has constituted a new task force to tackle the problem.

In Powerless, we see the power company’s attempts to disconnect the countless illegal connections that Loha and others like him have installed. And in truth, they agree on at least one thing: both point out that it isn’t just the poor, but also the rich who steal electricity. “How much can the government subsidize?" she asks.