Guwahati, Sept. 18: The numbers are frightening, though for the government of Assam and its power department, they are probably just cold statistics: 106 in 2006-2007, 104 in 2007-2008, 148 in 2008-2009, 167 in 2009-2010, 202 in 2010-2011, 145 in 2011-2012 and 205 in 2012-2013. That’s the number, a total of 1,077 “electrical accidents” across Assam since 2006 alone.
According to sources in the power department, “most of these accidents would have been deaths as these figures come to the government for payment of compensation to the next of kin”. “People who are just hurt rarely file compensation claims,” a source said. The number of people involved in such accidents is rising by the day, with the power department having turned, by all accounts, “a blind eye” towards the problem. “Also most fatalities involve common people and not power department workers who are trained,” another source said.
The situation in the electricity distribution system in Assam is grim as far as safety standards and measures are concerned. In Guwahati alone, three persons have died of electrocution since May this year. First, a woman who stepped on a pipe that carried a leaky wire across a footpath, then a mentally challenged person climbed an electric pole and touched a live wire and third, a man who died after he touched an advertising pole built on the road divider. Barring the second case where the power department could have done little, the other two could have been averted had the department simply gone by the safety book it is meant to follow.
It was not as if the department hadn’t been told of how it was playing with the lives of Assam’s citizens. A series of letters written by the chief electrical inspector-cum-adviser to the principal secretary of the power department, the chief general manager (distribution), Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) and the chief manager, Lower Assam Electricity Distribution Company Ltd, copies of which are with The Telegraph, constantly over a span of five years, kept the department informed on how dangerous the situation had become. (See chart)
The letter written on May 23 last year to the principal secretary says, “Most of the accidents reported to have occurred at supplier’s installation, while a few at consumer’s installation (sic)”. “Notably, the number of accidents occurring due to snapping of conductor (read cables) is highest amongst other causes (sic),” the letter accessed from Dispur said.
“The main causes of most accidents are similar in nature, which can be controlled by adopting required safety guidelines/measures as provided in the Central Electricity Authority (measures relating to safety and electric supply) Regulation 2010,” the letter goes on to say. In other words, the power department knew all along what it had to do to keep the people of the state safe but simply did not.
As the letter comments towards the end: “Massive reform works undertaken by ASEB/its successor companies in recent years also could not curb rising trend of occurrences of electrical accidents in the state.” The letter then states, in bone-chilling detail, the number of people killed from 2007 to 2010 in “electrical accidents”, along with a break-up of what caused the accidents. The total number of accidents stands at 727, which are mostly deaths, according to sources. Of these, snapping of conductor (overhead cables), marked bold in the letter, had resulted in 274 accidents. The remaining were classified under accidental contact with live wire, electric wire/equipment, violation/neglect of safety measures/lack of supervision, inadequate/lack of maintenance and unauthorised work (which amounted to 53 accidents) and in 2009-2010, five cases were attributed to “any other reason”.
The September 16 edition of The Telegraph had carried a report on how a survey conducted by the chief electrical inspector in June this year had drawn the “immediate attention of APDCL to rectify the defects in almost in all its distribution sub-stations and networks without further delay to ensure public safety.”
However, the concern of the authorities for the lives of citizens seems to exist only in letters, with no one really then willing to act on them.