It all began with the water tank. When Dumaria village in Ballia district got an overhead tank late last year, villagers thought their water problems would finally be over. But they hadn’t bargained for what was to follow. The 11,000 volt power line that was supposed to run the tank ran through their 220 V domestic supply lines, sending high voltage racing through the lines. So on June 15, when Sandeep Yadav, 18, turned on the switch at his uncle’s home, it proved fatal. By the end of the day, seven others in the village had sustained burns from electric shocks.
Electricity in Dumaria, a village with a population of about 12,000, is about extremes. There is usually no power and if there is, the voltage is so low that even light bulbs barely glow. Then, there is the other extreme that Dumaria witnessed on June 15 — power that kills and maims.
While UP claims that 98.7 per cent of its villages are electrified, the sub-station in Dumaria — ramshackle and abandoned with old wires joined dangerously at various points — tells you why percentages don’t always tell the story. While supply rarely matches demand in the state, the real problem lies in faulty lines, poor maintenance and like in the case of Dumaria, abject lack of accountability.
To run the water tank, power lines carrying 11,000 V (to be distributed in three phases from the transformers) were strung up in May last year. But instead of providing a separate network that would have meant installing a few electric poles, this high voltage line was tagged on the existing poles that carried the domestic supply lines.
Villagers say this high-power line was a naked cable that ran through the residential area of the village. The two lines remained dangerously close to each other. Villagers protested when they felt mild shocks, but nothing changed and the tank finally began functioning in December 2013.
The mild tingles continued to be felt every time someone turned on a switch or touched the taps, but nothing prepared them for what was to follow on June 14-15.
“On June 14, I had gone to my neighbour Ashok Lal’s house to charge my mobile phone. I had barely put the plug in the switch board when I felt the shock,” says Meera Devi, 30. She has a deep cut in her right palm.
Around 9 am the next day, Sandeep died while trying to do the same at his uncle Garju Yadav’s house. Sandeep, whose father is a farm labourer, lives in a thatched-roof house without electricity and he would often walk across to his uncle’s house to charge his phone.
By the end of the day, five other villagers had suffered burns and injuries from electric shocks. Following the incident, villagers blocked the Sahatwar-Haldi Road for three hours.
Villagers say there have been earlier instances of electric shocks and deaths, of crops catching fire due to low hanging high voltage wires, so when the water tank had to be run, they decided they would ask for covered cables and a separate network.
Shambhu Saran, a local BJP man, says he got villages to launch a protest in March 2013. “We wanted either covered cables or underground power lines. But in May, the power department got the line installed almost overnight,” he says. The tank, he says, cost nearly Rs 3 crore. “Would it have cost more than another Rs 2 lakh to put up a few more poles?” he asks.
Though villagers haven’t lodged an FIR, they blamed the power department of negligence. Sandeep’s father has got a compensation of Rs 1 lakh from the power department. The injured say they have got no money. They aren’t asking for it either because many of them don’t have legal connections.
A K Rai, Ballia Executive Engineer of the Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Limited, says, “The problem was not due to the close positioning of the cables. It was a fault in the transformer. Due to high voltage, supply of 11,000 V did not get distributed in separate phases and ran through the domestic supply line.” He says the department is in the process of separating the two lines.
Till that happens, villagers will be wary every time they turn on the switch.