It is totally ucceptable that the Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd (APDCL) thinks nothing of hiking tariffs amidst never-ending loadshedding, even as it turns a complete blind eye to live wire hazards posed by its crumbling, derelict network across the State. The situation is particularly bad in capital city Guwahati, where three lives have been lost in a week this month due to electrocution during flash floods. The pattern remains heartrendingly the same — hassled city denizens wading through flooded streets, not knowing when they will fall into an open manhole or get sucked into a drain, and then fatally coming into contact with a live wire. Little Pushan Kalita, a class VII schoolkid, idvertently touched the pillar of a display hoarding over which had fallen a generator line feeding electricity to a posh, gated residential enclave nearby. As the stricken boy fought for his life in the muddy waters, a painter who went to help him also perished. The young KFC eatery mager returning home after night shift simply had no way of knowing that a power cable had spped and fallen on the road due to heavy showers. Anyone taking a walk through RG Baruah Road or Zoo Road area where all these three electrocution deaths occurred, can see plainly the threat posed by haphazardly strung power cables, unprotected transformers and electric poles. But the APDCL honchos are blind to all this ever-present threat; irate local residents say they hardly ever get to see linemen performing routine maintence duties in the area. Many a times, residents of flood-prone areas complain of making desperate calls to APDCL offices to switch off power during torrential rains, but to no avail. The Kamrup (M) deputy commissioner has now directed the Kamrup (East) divisiol forest officer to prune all trees dangerously located near high tension power lines, so that tree branches do not break off during rains and detach cables.
The Congress has meanwhile alleged that the APDCL has not bothered to install devices which can automatically cut off power during massive downpour and flash floods. However, the Congress glosses over the fact that around Rs 1,000 crore was spent to solve Guwahati’s perennial water-logging problem during the three consecutive terms it was in power in the State. In particular, the APDCL has been implementing a Rs 146 crore project since 2015 under Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (RAPDRP) — to streamline the precariously hanging power lines in the city. Aimed to prevent power theft and electrocution deaths during heavy rains, this centrally funded project should have been completed within 18 months. But as it happens with scheme after scheme in this State, the project has stalled amidst allegations of the contractor not getting paid, while questions have been raised about how the contract was awarded in the first place. Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has now directed setting up of a joint team of Kamrup (M) district administration, Guwahati Municipality Corporation, PWD, APDCL, Assam Police and SDRF to identify and check out all vulnerable points in the city where live wires are posing hazards, along with constituting local level committees for quick response to such situations. On its part, the Power department has been pushed to draw up an action plan. It has been promised that all power lines in the city will be assessed for possible faults and leakages will be plugged, that APDCL will set up quick response teams and activate grievance cells and WhatsApp groups to receive citizens’ complaints and feedback. It remains to be seen whether these measures will stand up in the long run. After all, the powers-be in Dispur and various authorities mostly get wise after the event, and their reactions essentially remain knee-jerk. Recent media reports have highlighted government figures of 410 electrocution deaths in Assam in five years from 2010 to 2015. This is a high price the State is paying while its power distributor remains callous to safety aspects in its blinkered rush to augment revenue.