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The deadly live wires

Rasheed Kappan, June 15, 2013, DHNS: 2:51 IST
Infographics: Mallik concept: Rasheed Kappan
The dangerous mix of unprotected overhead power lines, exposed transformers and faulty electricity connections could prove too risky when the monsoon hits Bangalore with greater fury

Shaky electric poles, wires dangling precariously close to human contact, high tension wires hovering above menacingly. The monsoon, bringing with it torrential downpours, lightning and gusty winds, could dramatically turn this already dangerous recipe into a disastrous cocktail of death and destruction. Disturbed by the recent spurt in rain-related electrocutions in the City, Bangaloreans are crying for coordinated action by all agencies involved. It ought to be right now, rightaway!

The Meteorogical Department’s predictions of a normal to above normal monsoon this year ought to steer the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) and the Fire Deparment towards collective, immediate action.

Of some solace is the BESCOM’s preparation of a “Monsoon Plan 2013” to combat the enormous challenges that the rains will throw up in Bangalore Urban and seven other districts under its jurisdiction.

Precariously exposed to human contact, overhead wires and unprotected transformers on the footpaths are a big cause for concern. Danger lurks at every corner, because many city roads are lined by trees with roots too weak to withstand strong winds. If a response team is not quick enough, an uprooted tree falling on an electricity pole could trigger mayhem.

Operational readiness is thus a critical component of the Bescom Plan. During the season, each Operations and Maintenance (O and M) section is working as a service station with two full-fledged teams of one junior engineer and four line men. Each team is equipped with a separate vehicle, complete with all safety tools and other necessary line material, wireless facility and 247 functionality. The vehicles will also have medical kits with first aid treatment, night vision goggles and heavy duty torches.

“A total of 150 additional vehicles are provided. Taking a proactive approach this year, we want to ensure safety of both the consumers and our personnel,” a top Bescom official informs.

Bescom has also set up a 60-seater centralized helpline (080-2287 3333) at its headquarters in K.R. Circle, Bangalore to address the anticipated glut of incoming calls. To complain about power disruption, tree-falls on power lines and other issues, the public could register online at (www.bescompgrs.com). Also available is a 24x7 SMS facility. (Type Bescom subdivision code, and nature of complaint and send it to 92431 50000).
Currently, there are 160 service stations in the Bescom limits, which will go up by another 100. For the Monsoon plan to work efficiently, coordination with the BBMP, traffic police and the Fire department is crucial.

Underground cabling

Pushing the overhead electricity wires underground should have been the obvious, sureshot, permanent solution to the danger of electrocutions. But the pace of this project hasn’t been encouraging. Electricity experts acknowledge the benefits of underground cabling, yet they contend that feasibility is an issue. Overhauling the old lines in crowded locations will be a huge, costly task. Ideally, underground cabling will require the roads to be wide enough.

Since the benefits far outweigh the initial costs, Bescom has laid UG cables within a five kilometre radius of Vidhana Soudha. For the next 10 kms, it has preferred Aerial Bunched Cables (ABC), where two to four wires are bundled together and insulated. Launched last year on the recommendation of the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC), the project progress has been slow and unlikely to meet its 2014 deadline.

In the newly added BBMP areas, crisscrossed by obsolete electricity poles of Gram Panchayat days, underground cabling would obviously make a world of difference. But residents there had endured nearly a year of dug-up roads due to the BWSSB’s UGD pipe-laying work. They wouldn’t welcome another road-digging project in a hurry.

For them, the close proximity of the overhead power lines to their houses is a greater problem. Indeed, a looming threat. These lines were drawn much before the development of the areas. Revenue sites were laid out unmindful of the location of the power lines. Residents were relatively safe when the houses had just the ground floor. But when first and second floors were added, the lines got much closer for comfort. As the streets got narrower and encroachments grew, and builders refused to leave out an inch of space, the problem only got worse.

High-tension wires

Posing a greater danger to the houses are the 66 kV Extra High Tension (EHT) power lines. Although the Karnataka Electricity Grid Code, the rulebook for power supply, mandates that buildings cannot come up under the lines, hundreds of residential layouts have sprung up in close proximity over the last two to three decades. Every building was required to keep a minimum vertical distance of three meters from the EHT line. The rule was later amended to create a safe horizontal distance too. Yet the rule-flouting continues.

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