A blunder or an unauthorised act could have triggered Pongala-eve burst

The four simultaneous bursts on the 1200-mm pre-stressed concrete (PSC) transmission mainline carrying water from Aruvikkara to Observatory Hills in the city on February 25, the eve of the Attukal Pongala festival, is turning murkier with top officials of the Kerala Water Authority saying that a blunder of Himalayan proportions could have led to the burst, or worse, it could be the result of an unauthorised act calling for a very deep investigation.

The bursts, according to internal enquiries that are still on within the Kerala Water Authority, are suspected to have been caused by an ‘unauthorised’ closure of an online valve inside the pipe near the Vellayambalam Junction, which triggered sudden shock waves inside the pipe that led to the simultaneous bursts about 12 km from the valve. This is one angle that the panel appointed by the government is also looking into, apart from other possibilities.

Logbook mystery

Meanwhile, KWA officials on condition of anonymity told The Hindu that the valve was suspected to have been shut just before the bursts. Senior officials were examining the technical veracity of this valve closure theory since a logbook entry reportedly says that the valve was shut around 10 a.m. If that is correct, the burst should have occurred immediately. However, with the bursts occurring around 4 p.m., the logbook entry itself is under scan.

At the same time, with senior officials having reported sighting a maintenance van of the KWA stationed near the Vellayambalam Junction between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the theory that the closure of the valve could have led to the bursts has gained strength. And whether the protocols that should be followed before closing a valve, particularly on a crucial transmission line, that too on a day before a major event like the Attukal Pongala, were followed, and who authorised the closure are facts that are yet to be ascertained. As per protocol, the Chief Engineer, who leads the KWA’s Crisis Management Group, should have been informed of the decision to close the valve. Officials say that this does not happen on most occasions, more so due to practical difficulties.

The officials also said that reports gathered from various staff, including engineers, indicated that the valve was closed after a leak was noticed near Keltron Junction, right beside the Civil Supplies petrol pump. “Whoever went ahead with the decision to close the valve could have done it on the presumption that it was the 1200-mm pipe that was leaking at Keltron Junction.

But on Friday, when the KWA top brass decided to verify this leak, it was found that the 1200-mm pipe had no leaks. Instead, it was a small pipe supplying water to the nearby KWA quarters that was leaking. This means that if this was not a deliberate act, then it was a blunder of Himalayan proportions,” a top official told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.