The Panniar penstock pipe burst has brought into focus issues of maintenance of crucial installations of the Kerala State Electricity Board. What are the popular concerns with respect to infrastructure integrity and public safety in such matters?

Our readers respond:

Bad maintenance

While the exact reason for the bursting of the penstock pipe at Panniar is still being investigated, the mishap has brought to focus a general tendency among us Indians to either ignore or attach low importance to regular maintenance of industrial systems operating under drastic conditions such as high pressures and temperatures. Such systems should be subjected to periodic inspections and preventive maintenance. If this is neglected or assigned low priority, the chances of their unexpected failures increase resulting not only in loss of life and property of the people who are exposed, but also in considerable hardships to the community served by the utility of which the system forms a vital part. Bursting of water supply mains and large scale damages to transmission transformers are good examples. If such easily adoptable maintenance practices are persisted with, the rate of accidents such as the one that occurred recently at Panniar can be minimised.

BKS Nair


Use Information Act

The public should be, and a majority of them are, concerned about the maintenance of crucial installations. The penstock pipe burst could be due to a defect caused by wrong technical data, technical deficiency in design, non-compliance with specifications by the contractor, sub-standard material, construction defect due to dereliction in supervision by the engineers, or maintenance not carried out as per the provision for repairs. Improper maintenance could be either due to non availability of sufficient funds or work shown on record as done with expenditures incurred, but not actually done as prescribed. The information on this can be had under the Information Act. Some public organisations should collect the details and examine them as the departmental enquiry will take its own time to arrive at a conclusion.

S. Vidyasankaran


A stitch in time…

The recent accident has brought dam safety, disaster management, and preparedness into sharp focus. That the authorities are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to cope with potential accidents in dams and powerhouses is a matter of great concern.

It is sensible to try to prevent accidents rather than struggling to cope with post-disaster losses and trauma. Lack of proper equipment and paucity of trained staff are reportedly cited as the reasons for compromising with safety measures. It appears that lack of adequate funds has hampered the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment as well as modernisation of existing machinery. The KSEB must raise resources to be deposited in dedicated funds and should be utilised exclusively for maintenance and upgradation of machinery. Public sector units which owe large amounts to KSEB must pay up. Another way could be to effect a modest hike in tariff atleast for affluent consumers. Popularisation of CFLs will help the consumers absorb the increase in charges by way of energy efficiency. A tie up with CFL manufacturers would bring down the cost of the lamps. The dam safety wings of KSEB, KWA and the Irrigation Department should be well staffed.

Kerala is renowned for enacting progressive legislations. But the track record in implementation is poor. It appears that the Dam Safety Authority set up by the government is yet to be become operational. Assistance should be sought from the central Dam Safety Organisation and the Central Soil and Material Resources Station for carrying out studies on the existing dams and implement measures to ensure their safety. Disaster preparedness plans like evacuation of population should be prepared for each dam.

V.N. Mukundarajan


Tragedy in the offing

Had the authorities maintained vigil and caution, the tragedy of eight men being lost in the pipe burst could have been averted. But the administrative system is too poor to anticipate such eventualities and to take preventive measures. So far, the Chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Board has made no comment about this horrible fiasco. This is a sad commentary on the Board administration.

We are about to see the collapse of old school buildings with loss of precious lives of children in the not-too-distant future. Recently, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac complained of the indifference of PWD engineers in drawing up an estimate for construction of buildings for Government Boys Higher Secondary School, Kodungallur, where he had studied. Even though the Minister took special interest, the authorities failed to move. Our rulers should sit back and think why and where the government machinery goes wrong.

Keralapuram Krishnakumar


Crying over spilt milk

It is a sad fact that often a tragedy is what it takes authorities to redress the grievances of the public regarding public structures. Be it public roads or dams or other hydroelectric projects, the public has to pay for the negligence of the authorities. Authorities overlook periodic monitoring leading to delay in repair works. Most of the dams in Kerala have exceeded their lifespan of 50 years and delay in repair works permanently retard their proper functioning causing collapse of structure and catastrophes. Similiarly, a sudden downpour leaves the roads with potholes. The Panniar tragedy has brought out the negligence of authorities in properly maintaining public structures. This should be taken as a warning to avoid future disasters.

Archana V.