It’s shocking: 10K die of electrocution annually

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LINESMANDuring my college days, one of my favourite professors in electrical engineering department of Assam Engineering College inspired us to think about lower supply voltages for domestic appliances. Soon after the college education, I incidentally joined the mainstream journalism leaving little space for minute engineering updates. But the relentless casualties because of electrocution deaths across the country have compelled me to reorganize my engineering wisdom. For records, India loses nearly 10,000 people to electrocution incidents annually. Accidental electrocution (including few suicidal) cases are reportedly high in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Assam etc.

The faulty wiring system also kills dozens of animals including elephants, tigers, sloth bears, monkeys, flamingos, peacocks etc. Not less than 350 elephants died in India because of electrocution incidents during the last five years. The list includes casualties of over 180 flamingos, 65 leopards, 20 tigers, 15 sloth bears, 10 lions etc in this period.
Though low compared to many places, my home State Assam loses 50 to 90 people annually to electrocution deaths. Over 975 human lives were snatched away by the electricity related accidents in the State since 2001, where the highest number of electrocution casualties (88) was recorded in 2016. The first half of 2017 witnesses the electrocution deaths to around 60 human beings here.

Assam government led by Sarbananda Sonowal recently announced a high-level inquiry into the killing of many people due to electrocution incidents in several place of the State. He commented that if any employee of the State electricity distribution agency was found liable for the such death because of their negligence to duties, they would not be spared.

Now a debate slowly gets ground for reducing the supply voltages of 240 in alternate current with 50 hertz across our country. Days back, a civil society group raised voices for total re-arrangements of the power supply system, where the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) in a statement also batted for a national debate over changing the standard single phase supply up to 120 volt with multi-phase supply facilities.

Endorsed by Gandhian Natwar Thakkar, civil liberties campaigner Dr Gopal Krishna, senior advocate Upamanyu Hazarika, public health campaigner Dr SI Ahmed, author-journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Rupam Barua, Monalisa Changkija, Bidhayak Das, Jagadindra Raichoudhury with many others, the PPFA statement expressed grave concern over the human casualties because of faulty high voltage wiring arrangement in the country. “The statistics relating to electrocution deaths across India remain appalling. We believe that a pragmatic action plan over the layout of high voltage quality live wires, its timely maintenance, increasing public awareness on the safe use of electrical appliances become the need of the hour,” asserted the statement, supported by Er Buljit
Buragohain, Er Vikramjit Kakati, Er Tridip Sarma, Er Islamul Mandal, Er Kushal Ch Deka, Er Manabjyoti Changkakati etc.

The use of bamboo or other living trees to carry out the electrical wires, largely seen in northeast India, must be stopped and the concerned department should replace all such temporary poles across the country with prescribed posts at the earliest asserted the statement adding that the use of proper fuse wires (or other protective systems) in all electrical systems must be propagated as a precautionary measure.

It is commonly seen that often the consumers use solid wires (meant for high ampere current) in place of prescribed fuses. They do it normally to avoid the ‘boring’ exercise to change the fuse wire once it is blown up because of high volt/current. But they, with this act, deny the fuse to do its duty (to cut off the electric supply in need). Now it is too simple to argue that replacing thin fuse wires of low current rating with aluminum conductors (or other wires) of high current rating in electrical equipments the consumers only invite an accident. Ignorance in this respect among masses should be addressed properly to reduce the electrical disasters.

Another important aspect that needs to be taken into consideration that the electrical wiring may creates public health hazards. So the concerned authority must deal with the safety issue in right perspective. The electricity authorities across the country thus need a responsive safety department along with trained safety officers at the earliest.

Understanding the growing need of energy, we in India should encourage more alternate (also renewable) sources like solar, wind power, particularly for northeastern provinces enriched with water bodies, hilly terrains, forest covers supporting wildlife, where the laying of high voltage wires for longer distances always faces difficulties. Where it is possible, the underground laying of live wires, instead of overhead electrical distribution system, should be encouraged. The underground wiring system should also be separated from other utility services including the sewage canals by a reasonable margin to avoid adversities.

Finally India should rigorously debate whether 120/110 volt supply may be an adoptable option to reduce the fatality of the system to some extent. The use of low supply voltage is popular in few developed nations like USA, UK, Japan etc, but most of the countries in the globe prefer 240 volt supply lines.

The USA adopts an unique system to deliver the domestic electrical power in split phase arrangement, where it has two 120 volt alternate current phases with one neutral (center tap connected to ground). They use any one of the available independent phase lines with the neutral for relatively low power general appliances.

In India too, same arrangements can be made with two independent live/phases (each of 110/120 volt) with one neutral wire, where the customers may opt for single phase line only to use in lighting (preferably with LED bulbs), digital screening of television, computer, mobile phones etc and low watt fans. Mind it that these all appliances need lower AC or DC volt and hence we take the help of step down adaptors to get required volts. However, who prefer to use heavy electrical appliances like air conditioner, electric oven-dryer-cookers, may go for multi-phase supply lines. No doubt, the change of supply voltage would be a major policy shift for a country like India involving a huge volume of resources with adequate preparedness. But if we as a nation prefer to put our weight in favour of precious human lives, we must debate over the matter. The qualified and practicing electrical engineers should also come out with pragmatic ideas for an adoptable resolution for the benefit of our nation.

The author is a Guwahati based journalist. The views expressed are the author’s own

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