'Power threat' to Pinarayi Vijayan government's first Assembly session on May 24

Will the first session of the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly, scheduled to begin on May 24, be a 'power-less' affair? Will Pinarayi Vijayan's government come under Opposition fire for the inefficiency of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) ? How will the government ensure safety of workers engaged in pre-monsoon cleaning?

Many such questions are doing the rounds in Thiruvananthapuram these days even as the KSEB officials are working overtime to rectify faults in a power supply line to the Assembly.

The power supply was snapped on May 16. The incident happened while clearing the silt using an excavator from a drain at Ponnara Sreedhar Park that lies just four kilometres from the Assembly premises. The excavator came in contact with the 66 Kilo Volt (KV) underground power cable. This resulted in electricity breakdown and all the five cleaning staff hired by the Kerala Road Fund Board (KRFB) had a miraculous escape.

The snapped underground cable provides electricity to the Assembly. The electricity board officials are currently working overtime to restore supply before the beginning of the Assembly session (This is one of the two lines providing electricity to the Assembly. The other line is working fine at the moment).

"Power lines from Paruthipara and Thirumala sections supply electricity to the Assembly. One is kept standby in case issues are reported in the other. This is an exclusive line from Thirumala to the Legislative Assembly via the Powerhouse substation. It will be difficult to rectify the fault as the drain is inundated due to rain. Currently, the line is dead. We could take up work only when the drain is dry. With the assembly session starting on May 24, it is a tough situation for us," a KSEB official said on condition of anonymity.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

How did the cable snap?

Neither KRFB nor the contractor arranged by it did not know that a 66KV underground cable was passing through the park.

Workers told this correspondent that they did not see mandatory warning signs (of underground power cables) near the concrete slabs.

The workers used a medium-sized excavator to remove the silt. "We saw smoke from underground immediately after we began our work. KRFB officials asked us to stop work immediately," said a worker, who does not wish to be identified.

Workers cleaning drain at Ponnara Sreedhar Park.

A KSEB engineer at the Powerhouse Substation said the workers might have removed the concrete slab over the cable when KRFB had constructed culverts around the park in 2013. "The 66 KV underground cable was laid more than 20 years ago. Usually the high tension lines are laid through the middle of the road and under 1.2 metre depth to prevent any issues due to digging. We were not aware of its presence under the park. Normally, cables are sandwiched between layers of sand and concrete slabs are placed over them. There will be proper warnings about the presence of the power line. All these might have been removed at the time of construction of the culvert," he said.

KRFB blames KSEB

In a letter to the Thiruvananthapuram district collector, the Chief Executive Officer of KRFB blamed the KSEB for the incident and sought immediate intervention of the District Disaster Management Authority to re-lay the cable.

"The workers sensed an electric shock and they stopped work immediately on May 16. There was grave negligence from the part of KSEB as the presence of high-tension power lines under the park poses danger to the public as well as workers, who are engaged in periodic cleaning of the drains," the letter stated.

Workers cleaning drain at Ponnara Sreedhar Park. Photo: Special arrangement

Cleaning resumes

Meanwhile, workers hired by the KRFB resumed the pre-monsoon cleaning on Friday in presence of KSEB officials.

Thiruvananthapuram Mayor Arya Rajendran will soon convene a meeting of the officials of PWD, KRFB and KSEB in connection with the pre-monsoon cleaning. The meeting is expected to discuss the power outage incident.

Renovation of Ponnara Sreedhar park is one of the major projects under Smart City Project of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.

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