PESHAWAR: Kashmala Bibi lives in Latifabad Peshawar. Three years back her eight years old grandson Zeeshan died when he inadvertently touched power cables hanging down the electric poles outside his home. His sister Muzalifa also received shocks when she tried to rescue her brother. Three years have passed since this dreary incident happened in this overcrowded, unkempt and neglected residential area of Peshawar.
Muzalifa, who is now twelve years old, has not been able to forget her brother, nor could any other member of the family. They wish if only the Peshawar Electric Supply Corporation (Pesco) had paid heed to the complaints of the Latifabad residents about the high-tension electric cables hanging low at dangerous level they would have been saved of this gross loss.
“I can never forget that fateful day. I was taking my grandson and granddaughter to school when Zeeshan touched the electric cables and was electrocuted. My granddaughter, Muzalifa, has lost her right hand,” Kashmala narrates her ordeal while sobbing.
The government, says Kishmala bibi, has been so insensitive that despite of media coverage of this incident no official either paid them a visit or bothered to bear the treatment expenses of her granddaughter’s now limped hand. They have so far spent Rs 300,000 on her treatment.
Aisha Bibi a resident of Gulbahar says that every day she and her children walk under the high-voltage cables (the combine strength of which amounts to 11,000 volts). Expressing her fears to the News Lens Pakistan, she says that when it rains or storm struck the city these cables fall down the poles and lay bare on the streets.
Subhan Ali, a social activist working in an NGO called Khwando Kor, has formed two separate teams in the Gulbahar 4 area of Peshawar, each comprising five men and five women respectively to highlight the problems faced by the people in the area. They have been visiting Pesco to report the danger the hanging cables in Gulbahar is posing to its residents. So far, he has failed in his endeavour. “Every time we meet Pesco Public Relations Director General Shaukat Afzal he promises us to repair the defective cables but the promise is never fulfilled,” says Subhan
No specific data is available on the number of deaths occurring in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) because of electrocution from defective and low hanging electric cables, however, some estimate made by a local doctor gives a glimpse of the dire situation.
According to the Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Sher Ali Khan, 35 cases of electrocution have been received by the hospital so far this year. He says that 120 people suffered electrocution in 2014. All of them according to the doctor were bought to the hospital with third degree burns and injuries.
Dr Sher Ali says that the incidence of electrocution rise during rainy season.
Though the episode of electrocution accelerates during rainy season, fire emitting from short circuits is a recurring threat to the lives and business of the people. Many business and houses have been gutted in fire due to worn out electricity cables and outdated transformers.
According to Shehzad Khan a retired Sub-divisional Officer (SDO) Pesco, with every new addition in business or home, a set of new cables is added into the cluster of cables hanging down the electricity poles; surging the inefficiency of the aging and heavily strained grid system.
Every rainy season Pesco issues warning to the people through press releases against coming in close contact with the electricity poles and cables. Families are advised to take extra care while operating electric appliances.
Arbab Munir Ahmad, Director Safety Pesco tells the News Lens Pakistan that it is illegal according to Pesco’s law to construct anything near high voltage overhead power transmission lines. However, he says that due to unplanned urbanization and rising population there is hardly any check on the buildings and houses being constructed near the power transmission lines, because of which electrocution and short-circuit has become a common feature.
Paucity of funds and other resources keep Pesco from revamping the ailing electric cables in the province. “Every year almost ten workers of Pesco die because of electrocution while working on the high transmission cables. We cannot even save our own workers from the hazard posed by the faulty electric cables,” says Arbab Munir
The trader community also keep reminding the Pesco about the defective power supply lines and the danger the naked cables pose to the lives and businesses, but the organization has largely been unresponsive.
Haji Maqsood President Sarafa Bazar (Gold market) Association Peshawar recalls with pain the fire caused by short-circuit that reduced to ashes almost 76 shops on18 January 2014. The loss in monetary value was calculated at Rs 200 million. Maqsood tells the News Lens Pakistan that the government neither compensated for the loss nor found a permanent solution to the hanging and damaged cables.
Talking to the News Lens Pakistan, Nasir Khan Musazai, a member of Pesco’s Board of Directors, says that Pesco has been running in loss due to which it could not carry out repair work in many areas. Neither the federal government releases all the funds allocated for Pesco in the federal budget nor do all the consumers pay their bills. A staggering, 70 percent, consumers according to Musazai are not paying their electricity bills in KP. This capital squeeze has been the reason says Musazi behind the government’s inability to reconstruct the defective electric cables.
Public Relations Director General Pesco, Shaukat Afzal, lays the blame at lawmakers’ door. He says that Pesco depends on the developmental fund the KP lawmakers give for their respective constituencies to the former. Pesco does not work on areas where adequate funds are not given. Areas where hanging or damaged electric wires could be seen are those where the lawmakers have been reluctant to spend on such important projects.
According to the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID) research, the unsteady, exposed and overlying power cables have been affecting the performance of the transformers as well. Frictions produced by snarled cables have damaged many transformers resulting in prolong power outages.
According to the press reports, the USAID has initiated a Power Distribution Program in Pesco (the program covers total eight government owned power distribution companies) to reform its operational and financial efficiency. Under the program, the USAID will revamp, beside other things, the dysfunctional power cable system of the seven feeders in the city. The Aerial Bundle Conductor (ABC) is being used to replace the overlying cables. In ABC system the power cables are bundled together into a single wrap or an insulated cover. This protective insulation reduces the incidence of electrocution and short-circuits to 90 percent.
The ABC system will also reduce transmission and distribution losses by reducing power theft through the Kunda (hook) system. A power thief puts a hook on the uninsulated running wires attached to somebody else’s meter, thus stealing electricity while the cost is borne by others.
Speaking to the News Lens Pakistan, Fazal Ilahi the advisor to the chief minister KP on environment, says that the skyline of most of the areas in Peshawar like Gulbahar, Tehkal, Kohat Road, Ferdos, Sadder, Warsak Road are dotted with high-voltage electric cables giving an ugly look to the city. He says that his ministry has been pursuing Pesco for the rehabilitation of the city’s electric system, but so far, there has been no reprieve.