Assam power minister Pradyut Bordoloi tells Umanand Jaiswal of The Telegraph that Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) had been asked to immediately submit a practical roadmap to improve its services, including the safety of consumers in view of the rise in incidence of “electrical accidents” across Assam since 2006.
Excerpts from the interview:
The Telegraph: What have you got to say about the electrocution cases despite repeated reminders from the chief electrical inspector?
Pradyut Bordoloi: We are very concerned over the unfortunate incidents. We have taken up the matter with the APDCL to ensure safety and security of consumers and have issued an executive order that aims to fix accountability and responsibility.
TT: Do you take responsibility for the deaths, as you have been at the helm of affairs?
PB: We are very concerned and are taking appropriate measures. There are lacunae in the power sector as it has been expanding rapidly since 2006. We are trying to fix these since we launched the reforms in 2006.
TT: Is paying compensation enough for loss of life?
PB: Money can’t buy human life and we can’t allow people to die. We have told APDCL to put an end to the rise in mishaps by putting in place a preventive mechanism. We have asked them to report any incident within 48 hours following which the chief electrical inspector will visit the site, conduct an inquiry and take appropriate action, including legal action, against those at fault. The onus of ensuring public safety shall rest on the service providers at all times. Those found guilty of dereliction of duty will be taken to task.
TT: Why did the mishaps occur?
PB: Most of these have occurred in rural areas. To be fair to the APCDL, it, too, does not have adequate manpower to service remote areas. We are exploring the option of outsourcing, which is a must in far-flung areas anywhere between 40 to 100km from the nearest APDCL office. APDCL has been asked to come up with a practical solution at the earliest. In urban areas, the problem is callousness of the service providers as well as consumers.
TT: What is the actual problem in rural areas?
PB: Before we started the reforms with assistance of the Asian Development Bank, power supply was mostly urban centric. Though 9,000 of 26,000 of our villages were receiving power, it was mostly in name only. Since 2007, we have covered 26,000 villages in phases. The percentage of rural households receiving power has gone up to 40 per cent today from the earlier 16 per cent but I will be the first to admit that we still have miles to go.
TT: But where is the problem ?
PB: Servicing rural areas is a very challenging task. Since we extended our reach in rural areas in phases, villagers who missed out couldn’t wait for their turn. They tried to avail of power from adjoining villages or households, which were connected, most often illegally. Since safety standards are not adhered to, a lot of accidents take place. APDCL is not at fault here. Handling such issues are very challenging in the interiors. Therefore, outsourcing to maintain effective, safe and secure service is a priority area for the power department.
TT: How much has been invested in the ongoing reforms?
PB: We have invested around Rs 3,800 crore which has seen our power-carrying capacity (transmission and distribution) improve from 570MW to 1,800MW. Had these reforms not taken place, we would not have been able to meet our peak demand of 1,350MW today. Without reforms we would have had to suffer long hours of load shedding. Our power requirement will rise to above 1,500MW in two years.
TT: Of these funds, how much have you invested in safety?
PB: We don’t have a separate head for safety. Safety issues are dealt under operation and maintenance activities (O&M in official parlance). Safety is an inbuilt part of any project. There is no room for callousness. The chief electrical inspector’s office, set up by the government, is working on the safety aspect with due diligence.
TT: But the office of the chief electrical inspector seems to be the most ignored. What are you doing for its augmentation?
PB: It’s not true. The recent executive order is aimed at fixing responsibility and accountability. There will be no reminders. Service providers now cannot shirk responsibility. We are also setting up district offices of the chief electrical inspector. Now we only have five zonal offices, which are not enough. We are working towards streamlining the system. Usually we don’t disclose operational issues because it will de-motivate those working hard to improve the power scenario.