Society

Let there be electric light

Power House Photo: Achuthsankar S. Nair   | Photo Credit: Achuthsankar S Nair



One of the proposals for electric lighting in erstwhile Trivandrum came from an English Company, Dennison, Berlyn, Sillem and Co. of Portland Street, London. Proudly proclaiming their role in electric lighting of the Royal Institute of Painters, Piccadilly, and the Royal Palace Hotel, Kensington, they sought permission of the King of erstwhile Travancore to set up electric lighting. Their typed letter (perhaps one of the first) of November 20, 1897 reads:

Your Highness,

As so many of the palaces in India are now being lighted electrically and we have special facilities for carrying out contracts abroad, we write to ask if you will kindly allow us to prepare you estimate for installing the electric light in Your palace? Should you accede to our request, we should be glad if you we would kindly let us have particulars as to the structure of the building to be lighted, and also what system of lighting is at present in use. Of course, if you could send us drawings it will materially assist us in the matter. Hoping to be favored with your esteemed enquiries”.

In less than a month, the Chief Engineer, wrote to the Government that “As the government have already sanctioned the lighting of the town by gas there does not appear to be any room for an installation of electrical plant also”.

On April 27, 1898, yet another proposal seems to have come up with a recommendation from higher ups.

The proposal begins with the phrase: “As requested by His Highness the Maharaja and the late Dewan…”

This proposal had detailed costing that included 70 BHP engine and boiler (costing £913), compound wound continuous current dynamo (costing £881), main and branch switch boards and volt and ammeter, 1000 16cp glow lamps, 500 safety fuses, 70 lamp switches and 800 Edison lamp holders. This also, however, did not get nod.

This proposal also had a map of the town indicating where the lights would be installed.

Soon a proposal to set up a hydro-electric power station in Aruvikkara, with a double discharge turbine came up and that also seems to have been shelved.

It was another 30 years before electricity could light up the city.

Meanwhile, in 1900, a power house came up at Pallivasal, set up by Kannan Devan Company. In 1910 they set up one more unit. Small generators began to appear in some towns. In 1920s, the electrification project warmed up again in the city and quotes were invited.

The legislative records of those days reveal that the work was awarded to M/s Mirrlees Bickerton and Day Ltd., Bombay for Rs. 91,801.

Other companies like Gen Electric, Crompton, AEG, Siemens India, and Harrison Crossfield (Kollam), also quoted without success. There was controversy regarding the issue of overlooking a Travancore-based company.

In the alumni magazine of the University College in 1929, a report of the inauguration was carried.

The Electric Power House, Trivandrum was opened by M.E. Watts Esq., Dewan of Travancore on Monday, February 25th, 1929, the opening day of the Silver Jubilee Session of the Sri Mulam Popular Assembly. The work of construction started in March 1928 and in ten months the first trial were successfully conducted. The generators are worked by three air compression Engines of the Diesel Type, crude oil being used as fuel. About 16 miles of wiring has been already done and further length of 10 miles is still to be wired. The current will be available for public lighting, for lights and fans in private and public buildings and for industrial proposes. The event, interesting in itself, marks the start of a new era in which large towns and communities in Travancore will enjoy the amenities which the applications of science to life has ensured in other large towns in and outside India. Apart from this, the introduction of Electrical Power in Trivandrum will have been acquainted with the theoretical side of electricity or the theory of the appellations of electricity, but the free, and let us hope cheap, distribution of electricity inn Trivandrum will help to remove the academic halo round the utilisation of electric power and people will get increasingly interested in its applications. No country in the world can afford to let its sources of power remain unharnessed; but the introduction of hydro-electric schemes, the manufacture of fertilizers and similar modern aids to material advancement could not be expected to appeal to popular fancy nor could they obtain public support when the streets of the Capital were still lit by oil lamps.

The report ends with a proud remark about the fact that “the scheme was prepared, developed and carried out by Mr. K.P. Padmanabha Menon, one of the old-boys of the college”. The transition from oil lamps to electricity could have been a great one.

(This is the eighth part of a series on lighting techniques in erstwhile Travancore)


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