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September 13, 2010

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Residents faced with gas theft allegations

MORE residents have complained to Shanghai Daily that they have been falsely accused of stealing gas.

In such cases, maintenance workers doing compulsory checks of gas meters may find a small problem, such as a missing lead seal, to accuse people of stealing gas.

The workers threaten to cut off the gas supply, which is impossible, if the residents refuse to settle the problem privately.

Shanghai Daily reported on Saturday that an old man successfully defended himself against such accusations by telling the workers he planned to see them in court.

In new cases uncovered by Shanghai Daily, a media worker surnamed Liu said a man claiming to be a Shanghai Dazhong Gas maintenance worker visited his 70-year-old mother's home in Minhang District in March 2009 for a routine gas meter check.

"She never knew by opening the door we were hitching a ride with misery," Liu said.

He said the worker accused his mother of stealing gas because a lead seal was missing. But to many residents, the seal is insignificant and the gas company never warned them not to touch it.

Another victim, Cathy Deng, told Shanghai Daily her parents were accused of stealing gas in May because gas company workers found their meter had been modified.

"We bought the apartment one month ago," said Deng. "The meter was probably modified by the old owner, so why should we pay?"

Liu and Deng spent several months negotiating with gas company officials. They each agreed to pay 300 yuan (US$44.30) for a new gas meter although the absence of a lead seal didn't affect the operation of the old meters.

Questions asked

Other victims, ranging from a teacher to a Shanghai People's Congress deputy, raised questions about whether the gas company would cut the gas supply without direct evidence.

They also expressed confusion since fines seemed to be random. They said maintenance workers would often drop the fine from 3,000 yuan to 1,500 yuan, thus making it like an "illegal business."

An official surnamed Wu with Dazhong Gas' office in Minhang District told Shanghai Daily that the company doesn't have the technology to cut the supply to one household as it would affect other homes as well.

"The gas is sent via a long pipe and we can't cut in the middle of it," Wu said.

He said the company sometimes lowers fines "to show sympathy for poor people."

The number of victims had soared to 506 as of yesterday, according to a non-government consumers' rights protection website,


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