URBANSCAPE: A safety risk emerges from burdening the electrical and other wired networks in old Delhi

Information put together by Delhi Transco reveals M/s John Fleming, a private English Company, began generating and distributing electricity through a diesel power generator in 1905.The generator, capable of producing 2 Mega Watts of power, was installed at Lahori Gate.

The electrical power thus generated was a new thing that the British were trying to sell and not everyone was convinced. With limited production and few customers the costs per unit must have been high and so initially only the rich could have had the wherewithal to take a connection.

Try to imagine the scenario, 108 years ago there is no New Delhi, there is Shahjahanabad, the Civil Lines straddling The Mall, new residential and commercial areas like Sadar Bazar and Paharganj, scattered semi urbanised settlements like Nizam-Ud-din and Mehrauli and a large number of villages. In a situation like this power supply would have been restricted, by and large, to Shahjahanabad.

If someone living in Bazar Sitaram or Lal Kuan wanted a connection, the person would have been asked to foot the bill --partly, if not entirely -- of drawing the wire all the way from Lahori Gate to his house and there would also be the issue of the cost of electric poles. Once these obstacles had been neutralised the representative of John Fleming Company would have arrived, driven a pole in front of the house, drawn the necessary length of wire and there would be light.

Over a period of time more people began to opt for electric power and overhead wires and electric poles lining the narrow streets proliferated. The private company, intent on maximising profits, was obviously not going to invest in taking the wires underground and by the time power generation and distribution was nationalised in 1948, Delhi had a huge population of migrants that had arrived here as a result of the partition of the country. The administration had more pressing demands.

Over subsequent decades, more and more load was added to the existing skeletal infrastructure, Telephone wires and Poles added to the merry mess, then came Cable Wires, Internet Wires, Fibre Glass Cables and all this combined with the shifting of focus away from Shahjahanabad, first to South Delhi and West Delhi and later to East Delhi. Shahjahanabad and its population was neglected, initially ignored, then discriminated against and finally forgotten, with the area being described as an urban slum.

The fear that tourists arriving for the Commonwealth Games, while visiting the Red Fort, might wander into these neglected areas prompted some attempts at window dressing. Daryaganj got rid of its tangle of wires and showed that given political will, this is not an impossible task. The tourists, as it turned out later, did not come. However, the looming threat of their imminent arrival raised the expectations of the people who had otherwise given up.

Chandni Chowk was also to be spruced up but that project was delayed for reasons best known to those who run the affairs of the city. It has been reported that things might begin to move fast and that it would happen soon. We hope this happens, because once Chandni Chowk gets its makeover, there is hope that adjoining areas like Chawri, Hauz Qazi, Chitli Qabar, Ansari Road, Bazar Ajmeri Gate and other areas like Bazar Sita Ram and Nai Sarak will also be rid of these tangled webs that are, aside from being, horrible eyesores, also pose a constant threat to residents and visitors alike.

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