A downpour was drenching the old building at 1.45am on August 28 when what seemed to be a tremor struck. Several glass panes on windows lining the western wall cracked and broke, as did parts of the concrete wall of the control room of the 132KV power sub-station at Zuangtui, on Aizawl’s eastern outskirts.
“Some of us immediately ran out,” says P C Liannghawra, 52, who was on night duty at the control room. But it wasn’t a tremor in the conventional sense.
Parts of the ground on which Mizoram’s most important power distribution point stands sunk a couple of feet that night, endangering equipment. The landslip has created a scenario where, in the worst case, three-fourths of the state would be plunged into darkness. And, no one can say for how long.
Along with the sub-station’s campus, an entire portion of the hillside that extends several kilometres towards a ravine on its east has sunk. B Rothangliana, a Zuangtui resident and community leader who works as a joint engineer at the sub-station, says, “The first priority is to shift the control room, which is this sub-station’s lifeline.”
C Lallawmsanga, an executive engineer with the state power and electricity department’s distribution wing, says, “This sub-station feeds all the power lines going east, south and west of Aizawl and supplies electricity to more than half the city… this is where we get all our power from.”
The landslip has caused much concern. Chief Secretary Lalmalsawma called a meeting of P&E engineers and the disaster management department officials Thursday. Friday, staff from sub-stations across the city gathered at the Zuangtui sub-station with shovels and waterproof sheets to cover points on the ground that have sunk. Officials admit it is a temporary measure.
Landslip had endangered the Zuangtui sub-station in 1993 too. On June 27 that year, the land sunk more than three feet, says Liannghawra. The ground may have moved since, but not noticeably till this year. Plans were drawn up some years ago to shift the sub-station, but funding for the Rs 22-crore project is trickling in.
The slow financial disbursement is worsened by the financial crunch the state is facing. So far, the government has been unable to table a proper budget, only using the vote-on-account route. This could have implications for the sub-station shifting project because the state needs to cough up a 10% matching share. Engineers doubt the project will meet the targeted completion date of March 2016.