Shedding the onus load

Safety does not seem to be a matter of concern for Bescom as the increase in the number of electrical accidents shows

But if one passes by the office, they can see open wires dangling by the side of the building and hanging precariously, adjacent to the two-wheeler parking area within the
compound. A testimony to the indifference that marks the approach of electric utility companies.

Electrical accidents are increasingly becoming a cause for concern in the past few years. As electrical installations increase and old installations need replacement, the chances of people coming in contact with live wires have also increased. This often results in electrocution.

Statistics available with the State’s Electrical
Inspectorate and Electricity Supply Companies (Escoms) show that there has been a surge in the number of accidents. The figures have increased from a little over 1,000 accidents (including those involving animals) in the State in 1999 to 1,400 in 2011. In terms of human loss, 399 people died in 2009-10, while 205 people died in Bescom limits alone in 2010-11.

Overall, the Escoms have registered a 19.6 per cent increase from 2009-10 to 2010-11 in the number of electrical accidents. These figures not only include the public who have died or sustained injuries due to electrical accidents, but also employees of the Escoms themselves, usually the linemen or engineers. Bescom, which is the largest Escom in the State, under the prodding of agencies like Electrical Inspectorate and Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC), has started revamping some of its lines.

Hazardous locations
Bescom’s Director (Technical) K Ramakrishna says they have identified several locations around the City which have been classified as hazardous.

“Most of these are electrical lines run very close to houses, schools, crowded places and temples. We will replace the lines with Aerial Bunched Cables (ABC) at these places, so that they provide a good level of insulation,” he says.

There is also a plan to automate the mechanism to switch on and switch off streetlights to prevent human interference as some of the streetlights have switch boxes on the poles and are operated manually. In terms of jurisdiction, it is the BBMP that operates the streetlights, but it is a Bescom official on deputation to BBMP who takes care of the streetlights.

Funds crunch
Bescom, with all good intentions, also wants to replace wires on the poles from where a lot of illegal connections are drawn, but all of this takes money, it says. In fact, Ramakrishna says Rs 100 crore has been allocated for upgrading the electric lines over the next two to three years. But, that may not be enough. An official at KERC points out that it is a virtual stalemate as far as getting Bescom to commit itself to improving safety is concerned.

“The pressure is constant. This matter is discussed at every meeting. For every report and remedial measures that we ask for, we only get fat books. Then they say, give us the money and we will put in place every safety measure that has been recommended.”

Finally, money is what it all boils down to as far as Bescom is concerned.  For example, underground cables are much safer than overhead cables, but there is the cost factor. Underground cables cost six times more than regular cables, whereas ABCs cost just 1.5 times more.

Ramakrishna says Bescom is sincere about its revamping plan and might finish most of it in the next six months. The urgency comes in the wake of KERC taking up a suo motu case after a young girl was electrocuted on her way to school recently. Bescom is giving finishing touches to the action plan it has to submit to KERC on August 30.

Bescom insists people need to inform them immediately about problems with transformers. “If we get to know about it, we can isolate them immediately and then we can also monitor the problem. In most cases, people do not inform us,” Ramakrishna says.

But this approach of Bescom, where problems are rectified after being brought to its notice, is hardly the right approach. In 2010, the Central Electricity Authority notified the Central Electricity Authority (Measures Relating To Safety and Electric Supply) Regulations, 2010.

Safety  measures
These regulations comprehensively list safety measures for construction, installation, protection, operation and maintenance of all electric lines. “How many of these rules are they following? Have they bothered to keep a record?” questions M G Prabhakar, the Energy Committee Chairman of Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Not even the KERC can get them to make changes as there is no suitable monitoring. Their own staff are in peril and they do nothing about it,” he rues. There is a great element of truth in his complaint. For, it is not just the Bescom main office that displays open wires and lack of fuses. Statistics for 2010-11 show that 15 Bescom employees died, while 108 employees were injured. “If a consumer premises had open lines and flouted rules, Bescom would have issued a disconnection notice to them. Who will issue a notice to Bescom?” asks Prabhakar.

KERC has made a new suggestion to keep the Escoms in check. “If a utility has more number of accidents, then it will have an adverse effect on the performance rating of that utility. Having a low rating means the utility will not be eligible for the incentives we offer and this will have a direct bearing on their revenue,” an official at KERC said.

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