Residents of Jeevan Bima Nagar, where 13-year-old Bharat was electrocuted on a mango tree, say this was an accident just waiting to happen.
The branches hung perilously close to the live wire that caused the death of the boy: Bescom hadn’t pruned the tree for over a year.
The wires were passing perilously through the branches, and the transformer nearby was often emitting sparks.
Bescom is notoriously callous when it comes to safety, as two earlier incidents show. In one, a boy playing in a park came into contact with a live wire, and died on the spot. In another, a school student parked his cycle against an electric pole, and was electrocuted.
This was what happened on April 14: Bharat climbed a tree to pluck mangoes. Using a wet stick, he tried to reach out to a fruit when it came into contact with a live wire. He was electrocuted on the spot, and become motionless between the branches.
The youngest son of construction labourers Aiyappa and Maralamma, Bharat lived in a slum in Sudhama Nagar, near Jeevan Bima Nagar. Bharat’s parents hail from Kalaburagi in northern Karnataka, and have been living in Bengaluru for 40 years.
Metrolife visited the accident site and spoke to the family.
Maralamma was distraught when daughter Yellamma brought her out to meet this reporter. “I still can’t believe he is not with us. I think he has gone out to play and will return,” she says, tears rolling down her cheeks.
The boy from the neighbourhood who urged him to pluck mangoes has been quietly packed off to his village by his parents.
Bharat’s father Aiyappa, 40, says the only action Bescom took after the accident was to cut off the tree branches hanging over the wires. “Nobody has come forward to help. We received help only from neighbours and relatives,” he says.
The Sudhama Nagar slum has electrical poles with hanging wires and rusted junction boxes. Abdul, 26, has been living in the area for 20 years. “We have never seen Bescom workers carry out any maintenance on these electrical poles. They come only when we call them during power outages,” he says. Murugamani, a homemaker, is worried about the hazards, especially since the wires are so close to the houses. “There could be a fire or blast. We are terrified during the rainy season,” she says.
Bharat had a close group of friends, and they are still coming to terms with his absence. Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Rihan says, “He mixed with everybody. The two of us always rode a cycle and we were together a day before he died.” Parashuram, 16, and Bharat went to the same school. “He was not the kind to stray. He was careful about who he made friends with. In this instance, we were not with him when some other boy took him there,” he says. Bharat’s friends suspect the new friend forced him to climb the tree.
Eyewitnesses blame Bescom for poor maintenance. Arogyaswamy, a civil contractor, has never seen, in 30 years, Bescom responding to complaints about hanging wires and short circuits. “We always see loose wires brushing one another hazardously,” he says. Seconding his view is Amaresan, who works as a welder. “The wires should be enclosed but are not.”
A top Bescom official says Bharat is partly to blame for the tragedy. “He was trying to pluck mangoes with a wet pole, which is normally never done,” she says.
Bengaluru currently has 12,000 km of bare overhead wires. She adds, “We plan to put all of them underground. This is a massive project and is being taken up in several phases, considering the cost. The bare conductors will remain in the city till they either go underground or are covered with insulation.”
She says Bescom has identified densely populated areas and will prioritise them when it comes to putting wires underground. “Maintenance is always done before the monsoon. The loose spans are tightened, and poles that have deteriorated replaced. We also identify and give BBMP a list of trees that need to be pruned,” she says.
Case against Bescom
The police have booked Bescom officials for causing death by negligence. A senior officer with the Jeevan Bima Nagar police station told Metrolife, “These cases take at least two to three years to reach any resolution. Speedy disposal calls for witnesses and proof.”
300 calls a day
Bescom helpline 1912 gets 250 to 300 calls a day. Of these, two or three are related to live wire hazards. “The reason for the problem is usually gusty winds, fallen tree branches and vehicles crashing into poles. The other complaints are related to excess billing and power thefts,” says a top official.
Three types of overhead wires
Bengaluru has three types of overhead wires, called conductors in Bescom parlance. “One is the bare conductor widely used in India, the second one the underground conductor, and the third is a conductor having some kind of insulation around it. Ninety per cent of existing wires are bare conductors,” a top Bescom official told Metrolife.
Dr T V Ramachandra of the Centre for Ecological Science at IISc says Bescom is accountable for the tragedy. “This shows Bescom’s negligence and people not reporting the problem to the authorities,” he told Metrolife.
Why do such incidents recur?
Accidents due to negligence may recur as long as we lack a mechanism of accountability. Alert citizens and sincerity in bureaucracy would minimise such instances. There is a hierarchy in Bescom to address live wire problems, but they are ineffective.
What do you think should be done to avoid such incidents?
Bescom must prevent such accidents. Unrealistic pruning and indiscriminate removal of trees will not solve the problem.