The district collector of Visakhapatnam,Alokia Soloman Raj,is in a dark mood in his home-office. The room is lit by a single bulb and a fan is struggling to run. Both are drawing power from the backup supply of an inverter.
The scene,in many ways,sums up the crisis in Coastal Andhra’s biggest city and its neighbouring districts.
The strike by employees of power distribution companies,which began last week to protest against the decision to create a separate Telangana state,has brought this port and steel city to its knees.
With even basic and emergency services such as water supply and healthcare feeling the impact of the strike,angry residents are beginning to resent the manner in which the power workers are seeking to press their point.
In adjoining Vizianagaram town, curfew imposed after violence last week has crippled normal life. To top it,the meteorological department has warned that a cyclone would hit the Andhra-Orissa coast by Sunday,which could mean more blackouts.
District collector Raj said he somehow managed to convince local power distribution workers to spare the King George Hospital,coastal Andhra’s biggest and the states second largest government hospital which has super-speciality facilities.
Water supply,including municipal drinking water,has also been restored as the striking workers agreed to supply power to pumping stations.
As a result,KGH got full power Tuesday after running emergency facilities,including ICU,ICCU and neo-natal wards,on backup power for nearly 20 hours.
Medical superintendent Dr Madhusudhana Babu said that as a precautionary measure the hospital stocked enough diesel to run two generator sets for 15 to 20 hours if necessary.
We can run emergency facilities like ICUs,ventilators and paediatric intensive care unit on backup power if required. While normal power supply has been restored to our hospital,the thousands of patients who come here everyday are facing immense hardships due to the lack of proper transport facilities. We receive patients from as far as Orissa and Chhattisgarh. In the last five days,patient arrival has gone down by at least 50 per cent, Babu said.
However,the Victoria Government Hospital for women and children remains dependent on backup power. Private hospitals,clinics and nursing homes are the worst hit. The Seven Hills Hospital on Waltair main road has been using diesel generators since Sunday.
We cannot put patients to hardships by postponing surgeries or treatment. Although it is proving to be very expensive we are ensuring that the entire hospital has full backup power during the 10-hour long power outages every day, said Seven Hills medical superintendent Dr K Dinaker.
He also gave vent to his unhappiness about the disastrous turn the 70-day-old united Andhra protest has taken with the power workers strike.
This is no way of agitating for whatever reason. You cannot put people,especially patients,small children and the elders to such immense hardships and suffering by imposing such crippling power cuts. There are other ways of agitating without making people suffer, Dinaker said.
Elsewhere,APTransco has resumed power supply from 400 KV feeders to Vizag Port and Vizag Steel Plant,which were running on captive power,but thousands of its employees are without power like the rest.
While Visakhapatnam has stocked up on essential supplies after the 72-hour shutdown,its adjoining areas are still reeling under shortages. There were long lines at fuel stations and medical shops at most places.
Many people from Vizianagaram used the curfew relaxation Wednesday to come to medical shops near King George Hospital to buy medicines and injections.
Suppliers of generator sets and inverters on lease or rent have doubled prices as residents of high-rise buildings and apartments are making a beeline for them to power their elevators and water pumps.
People from around the region are buying vegetables,essential commodities,hundreds of litres of diesel to run generator sets and were filling up petrol,worried that supplies could be further crippled if transporters join the strike.
Protests and agitation against bifurcation of the state is fine but why take such extreme steps that inconvenience the public so much? There is no power since 7 am today and everyone is asking about the talks that the chief minister is holding with electricity employees. People are being forced to purchase inverters and portable gensets for their homes and businesses, said V Venu Gopal,a logistics manager at a pharma company.