The rains are yet to completely recede from Assam this year, but the power supply authorities need to plan now itself for next year to prevent tragic loss of lives due to electrocution. Make no mistake, most such deaths are entirely avoidable and can be attributed straightaway to negligence. The State lost 88 lives last year and around 70 lives during the rains this year due to electrocution. After spped live wires claimed six lives in capital city Guwahati, the municipality authority suddenly woke up to power lines dangerously sgged by tree branches. A drive began to clear power lines of such obstacles, but this should not be a knee-jerk, one-off exercise. Such drives should be regularly conducted round the year, for trees grow fast. But any Guwahati denizen will have horror stories to tell about how tardy municipal workers have become in doing their job. When the city municipality charges residents under the cleaning head, yet outsources cleaning work to NGOs who then charge residents again, it speaks volumes about GMC’s capacity and commitment to keep the city clean and safe in different ways. As for Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd (APDCL), it has now received another timely reminder from Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission (AERC) to think hard about the safety quotient and keep the people informed what it plans to do. The AERC passed the order after considering a petition that the APDCL has not been complying with safety regulations laid down by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in 2010. Prescribed technical standards have not been followed in drawing power lines and constructing sub-stations, neither were such works inspected and verified on site by the concerned State government functiory, the petition alleged. The APDCL has now been directed to prepare a detailed project report about safety measures for distribution installations and networks, educate its employees about such measures, as well as spell out the do’s and don’ts for power consumers.
This July, the State government constituted a one-man commission of inquiry headed by Justice (Retd) HN Sarma to go into the circumstances leading to electrocution deaths and fix responsibility. It will be instructive to see what revelations are made in its report, but the Chief Minister had also directed setting up of supervisory committees in every electrical subdivision and starting emergency services for addressing power supply faults in towns and cities. A beginning can be made by filling up reportedly 3,000 posts of linemen and helpers lying vacant in APDCL. There are allegations that the APDCL does not have a settled structure, what with frequent changes at top posts and bureaucrats holding charges of other departments as well. Disorganized, understaffed in key capacities like maintence and supervision — it is hardly surprising the APDCL has had little time to look after issues beyond frequent raising of power tariff. But there is a crying need to survey and replace worn-out lines, keep these free of overgrowth and ensure that the lines do not sag dangerously. There are nearly 2,500 transformers reportedly lying defunct, while many more are neither properly fenced nor earthed. The Power Minister revealed in the Assembly last month that there are around 20,000 bamboo electric poles across the State, though he blamed locals for putting up some of these poles. It remains to be seen how soon these are ictivated and then replaced by concrete poles as he had promised. There are also many concrete poles that sink into soil softened by rain, which in turn lead to power lines hanging low and imperilling both humans and animals. In cities and towns across the State, connections both at electric poles and electronic hoardings need to be checked urgently. What needs be appreciated is that electrocution is a major killer across the country, claiming on average around 9,500 lives per year. Uttar Pradesh alone suffers 500-600 such deaths on average yearly, while States like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kartaka, Telanga and Andhra Pradesh too record high casualty rates. Like most countries in the world, India follows the European standard set by Germany of delivering power in alterting current (AC) at 220/240 volt. There are countries like the USA and Japan which use the 110/120 volt standard (though residences can get 220/240 volt through two phases), which is far safer in terms of accidental electrocution. Our country has thus chosen a system more efficient in power distribution, but also more lethal. This is why taking due care is a must, both for power utilities and consumers.