The electricity board must be vigilant in maintaining electric lines and not resort to defence mechanisms later

One morning, when Sachin tried to open his room window, he was surprised to find a cable dangling, preventing him from opening the window fully. He found that the cable was going from his EB board to the next door. The domestic help told him she had been seeing the cable for the last one week.

Sachin contacted his neighbour and discovered that there was a cable fault due to which there was no power supply next door, and when complained, the EB officials had given supply from his house without informing him. Though this was not going to add to Sachin’s monthly bills, it was a mistake that the supply was routed from his compound without prior information and that the cable was dangling dangerously low. Moreover, for over a week no action was taken to resolve the problem. He took up the matter with the authorities concerned. However, they turned a deaf ear and did not even accept the written complaint. An aggrieved Sachin approached us for assistance, and upon our intervention, the issue was resolved and the officials apologised to Sachin.

An cable overhanging today might cost a person’s life tomorrow. Electrocution isn’t uncommon, and statistics reveal that in the last few years, over 3,500 people have been electrocuted in the State. On May 4, 2011, Alamelu lost her husband as a live wire hanging precariously from the top snapped and fell on him. Also, the fatal incident happened after the husband’s repeated complaints to the electricity board. Alamelu filed a writ petition before the Madras High Court seeking compensation. Though the TNEB tried to dodge the bullet by claiming that the cable snapped due to heavy winds and thus it was an ‘Act of God’, the Court applied the Doctrine of Strict Liability and held the defendant liable for the death. A compensation of Rs. 7,27,000 was awarded to the aggrieved wife.

In the case of Nizhalkodi vs. Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, decided on August 16, 2012, the petitioner’s husband died due to electrocution by a live wire. The said cable hung at a height shorter than the average height of a man.

Though the electricity officials tried to hide behind the infamous defence ‘Act of God’, the Madras High Court made the TNEB liable for negligence and ordered that a compensation of Rs. 5,77,000 be paid to the petitioner.

Rule 91 of the Indian Electricity Rules, 1956, says, “Every overhead line that has been erected over any part of street or other public place or in any factory or mine or on any consumers’ premises shall be protected with a device approved by the Inspector for rendering the line electrically harmless in case it breaks.”

Also, Section 68 of the Electricity Act, 2003 gives authority to a District Magistrate to remove the trees, structures or objects placed near an overhead line. It is necessary for the electricity board to be vigilant in the maintenance of electric lines and not resort to defence mechanisms later.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)