In the Line of Duty

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Muhammad Yasir

Pakistan’s major cities contain one of the most complicated infrastructures of electricity around the world, which can partially be attributed to the haphazard, unplanned, and mushrooming housing societies in metropolises. To make the situation worst, it is indeed, an extreme challenge for power utilities to ensure the supply of electricity to the customers, mainly in the rainy season, which comes with the sacrifice of the precious lives of the technical team members every year.
According to the State of Industry Report 2022 released by NEPRA, 196 people, mostly workers of power distribution companies, have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty across Pakistan. The technical staff assumes high-risk responsibilities at the time of extreme weather conditions, such as torrential rains. These unsung heroes lose their lives to fix the issues of their customers.
Besides the deaths of technical workers, citizens in many cities fell victim to electrocution due to widespread illegal connections, which turn out to be deadly connections for users of hooks (Kundas) or illegal connections by its users or unfortunate passersby in the area. Stranded rainwater in many areas, including posh localities, shanty towns, and crowded bazaars and commercial buildings in metropolises, also cost precious lives due to electrocution.
The regulator had been very strict with DISCOs on deaths caused by electrocution. It imposed penalties of around Rs 270.5 million on various DISCOs in FY22.
Peshawar witnessed the worst situation of fatalities as 39 people were victims of electrification in the financial year 2021-22, which showed a 69 per cent increase in deaths.
Besides, the number of fatalities grew by 22 per cent in Islamabad and 77 per cent in Faisalabad from FY21 to FY22.
Surprisingly, In Karachi, the number of deaths has reduced by 33 per cent in the financial year 2021-22 as compared to the fatalities reported in the previous year despite downpours measured record increase amid the intensity and period.
One of the ways to reduce fatal incidents is to take extraordinary measures, including fresh investments for revamping the infrastructure.
For instance, K-Electric has rebuilt elevated power-supplying stations and rolled out aerial bundle cables, which ultimately reduced the number of casualties. Customers in many areas continue to receive electricity during moderate-intensity rains in the monsoon season due to this revamped infrastructure, which usually did not happen in the commercial capital as the DISCO usually did preventive power load-shed in the rainy season.
Moreover, the company also provided training to nearly 100 female volunteers under its CSR Project Roshni Baji with one of the aims to educate electricity users residing in different areas about preventing themselves from electric shocks mainly while using their home appliances in the rainy season. According to the NEPRA report, KE investment in various projects, including infrastructure, surged to Rs. 12.28 billion in FY22 as compared to Rs.6.98 billion investment reported in FY12; showing a whopping growth of 75 per cent on a year-on-year basis.
The number of fatalities due to electrocution is reported every year with varied numbers. However, the prevention of such incidents could also be made possible through the awareness of customers and the promotion of preventive measures in society. The incidents of electrocution can’t be reduced to zero by any power utility if theft of electricity continues through hooks or Kundas in residential and commercial areas. Related factors include the structure of residential societies and commercial places in Pakistan, which cost the lives of individuals. The use of substandard equipment and wired connectivity by the customers also cause the loss to public and private properties and may also result in fatal electrocution. The widespread part of electricity infrastructure, poles, are being used by cable tv and internet providers, which creates problems for DISCOs. These wires are a potential source of painful electrocution.
It is high time to realise that safety is not the sole responsibility of electricity providers but it is, in fact, the responsibility of every stakeholder, including customers and the government, to ensure that citizen lives are protected in every circumstance, and they have to play their due role accordingly. In this regard, massive awareness and ongoing training are required to address the issue of electrocution in every city and area, either through mass media or through direct visits.
Power utilities should maintain high standards of training for their technical staff to adopt safety measures at work on a priority basis. It should ensure the implementation of safety measures through its SOPs or code of conduct for technical teams to prevent their precious lives. The employees are not only important for their families but for the companies which rely on their performance and dedication. Hence, companies also invest in capacity building for these frontline soldiers.