What really happens when the city has a day-long power outage is a question many ask. While for city residents power suspensions have become the norm, a part of daily existence, prolonged outages pose a severe inconvenience, especially to patients and senior citizens.

Every time power is suspended for ‘maintenance purposes’ in his locality, K. Ajith, a resident in Gemini Parsn complex, Nungambakkam has to shift his mother to a relative’s or friend’s home. Ajith’s mother relies on an oxygen support system that depends on electricity.

While for city residents power suspensions have become the norm, a part of daily existence, prolonged outages pose a severe inconvenience, especially to patients and senior citizens.

The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shutdowns have become almost a monthly ritual in many households. But residents wonder if the day-long outage, said to be for maintenance, is in fact for that purpose. Does the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) actually maintain its equipment? — is a question many residents have posed. If so, Chennai probably has the most maintained power system in the entire country.

“My mother uses an imported machine that draws oxygen from the atmosphere. It runs on electricity. During the shutdown, even the lifts don’t work. So we have to plan ahead and then make alternative arrangements. I suspect they are saving power or rather channelling it to other districts during the so-called maintenance shutdown,” said Ajith.

TANGEDCO officials said that during the shutdown, their personnel usually check and maintain the transformers and pillar boxes in various localities. Inside the substations, maintenance requirements arise for equipment like feeders and breakers that could get affected due to overloading. TANGEDGO personnel, officials said, periodically service these as well.

While maintenance shutdowns were not uncommon a few years ago, their frequency now is something Chennai residents have never seen before. “Now, the number of areas has increased too,” said T. Sadagopan, a consumer activist in Pattabiram. Maintenance shutdowns, he added, often end up being a power holiday. “TANGEDCO officials claim that they are short of manpower and even materials, so how is it possible for them to maintain their equipment so regularly? The excuse is just an eyewash to save power,” Mr. Sadagopan added.

However, some residents such as R.N. Varadhan, secretary of a consumer rights protection centre, feel the shutdown is necessary, considering the high load. “Earlier there were no air-conditioners. Now every house has one and the demand has increased. If they don’t maintain the equipment, the staff will be taken to task,” he said.

TANGEDCO officials voice a mixed opinion. While some assert that maintenance work does take place, others claim it does not. According to sources, the amount of power saved during a shutdown depends on the consumption in a particular locality. A well-placed TANGEDCO employee even admitted to a shortage of manpower. He said: “We can save up to 150 MW during a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shutdown in one day. Power is saved on the pretext of maintenance shutdowns. There is not enough manpower to carry out the maintenance work.”

Others deny the charge. “We have a foolproof system in place and the concerned sub-station staff has to send reports to the headquarters. The system is monitored regularly,” said a senior TANGEDCO official.

Besides, the demand in the city has shot up drastically, and so sub-stations are running at their full capacity, he said. “The city’s demand is over 2,500 MW now. The residents don’t inform us when they buy additional electrical equipment. Now if we do not maintain our equipment, the malfunctioning units may lead to further power cuts,” he added.

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