A comprehensive guide to addressing Bescom-related electric hazards

Explainer on bescom electric accidents-part 1

Cables on the footpath and road
Though Bescom cut off OFCs on the electric poles at Whitefield in response to the Safe Footpath initiative, the cables remained on the road and footpath for about three weeks. Pic courtesy: Gautam Mishra

Last October, 23-year-old Soundharya and her nine-month-old daughter lost their lives to electrocution by a Bescom live wire in Hope Farm, Whitefield. In August, a Christ University student was burned by a live wire from an electric pole that fell when a vehicle accidentally pulled on an OFC illegally put up on the pole.

What are Bescom’s responsibilities in terms of preventing accidents? And what can you, as a citizen, do if you see a safety hazard, or if you suffer injury/property damage? Here is a guide.

According to data Bescom shared with this reporter, 134 people died in Bescom-related accidents in the financial year 2022-23, and another 90 in 2023-24 (until November). Over this period, a total of 106 non-fatal accidents were also reported. Deaths and injuries were reported among animals too, from 136 accidents.

As per the central Electricity Act, 2003, and regulations under it, Bescom is supposed to strictly ensure safety and attend to complaints immediately.

Read more: How renewable energy production can affect what you pay for power in Bengaluru

What to do if you see a Bescom safety hazard?

On seeing a safety hazard related to Bescom – such as broken or low-hanging wires, OFCs mounted on electric poles – you can call the Bescom helpline 1912, or contact the WhatsApp number corresponding to your Bescom circle.

Following are the WhatsApp numbers, to which you can also send photos and videos:

  • South circle: 8277884011
  • West circle: 8277884012
  •  East circle-:8277884013
  • North circle:8277884014

The helpline registers around 10,000 complaints daily from citizens, across 14 categories, including billing and safety hazards, says Nagaraj S R, General Manager (Customer Relations) at Bescom. “The 1912 helpline is run by a 24X7 control room, with 100 executives each in three shifts.”

While Bescom has set time limits for its staff to resolve complaints such as power outages, no such time limit exists for safety-related complaints as these are emergencies, says Nagaraj. “On receiving a safety-related complaint, the call centre will immediately inform the concerned service station. Each service station is staffed by linemen and junior engineers, who are supposed to attend to the problem immediately. If the call centre executive is unable to contact the service station, they will contact the Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE) or higher-level officials,” he says.

In 2022 and 2023, Bescom respectively registered 68,748 and 61,116 complaints exclusively relating to safety. Many of these complaints are raised by Bescom staff themselves. If an ordinary citizen raises such a complaint, they would get a docket number and the status of complaint resolution, says Nagaraj.

After the Whitefield accident, 12 members of the citizens’ group Whitefield Rising conducted a survey in a one-kilometre radius of the accident site, and identified 10 Bescom hazard spots.

“Half the footpaths were occupied by electrical installations. The main issue was Group Operating Switches (GOS), which Bescom was supposed to have replaced with safer structures, remained on many spots. Bescom responded that GOS have been replaced in Whitefield; so we don’t know if these are defunct structures,” says Gautam Mishra, who leads the Safe Footpath initiative. “Also, we found OFCs put up on Bescom poles. When we informed Bescom, they cut off the cables, but the cables remained on the road for about three weeks, obstructing pedestrians.”

GOS on an eletric pole in Whitefield
GOS identified on an electric pole as part of the Safe Footpath initiative in Whitefield. These structures obstruct movement, and could be dangerous as pedestrians may brush against the rods. Pic courtesy: Gautam Mishra

BBMP has now started removing the cables after several rounds of follow-up, he says.

Bescom’s responsibility in preventing accidents

Shanthamallappa S T, GM (Quality Standards and Safety) at Bescom, says post Soundharya’s death, Bescom has directed its officials to strictly follow the ‘Manual for Safety/Technical Audit of Power Distribution System’. The manual, published by the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission in 2015, gives detailed guidelines on routine maintenance of the distribution system.

“While this manual was supposed to have been followed earlier too, we are now taking it up strictly,” says Shanthamallappa.

According to the manual, the main causes of electrical accidents include:

  • Power distribution system built without conforming to standards (such as inadequate ground clearances and imperfect earthing)
  • Not attending to defects in the system promptly
  • Buildings constructed too close to the existing electrical network

The manual prescribes the safety norms for every component of the distribution system, and explains how these can be achieved. For example, electric poles should not lean by more than two degrees, neoprene gaskets should be used to prevent leakage of transformer oil, and so on. Such instructions are given for all components, such as insulators, stay wires, distribution box and circuits, earthing, overhead and underground cables.

The manual instructs Escoms to:

  • Conduct a GPS survey to capture coordinates of the components of the distribution system. Based on this, prepare digital maps of the system, which should also be updated every time a new structure is installed.
  • Alongside this, conduct a safety/technical audit to identify deficiencies in the system, list these in a standard format, and correct these. The manual provides the checklists to be used for the audit.
  • Further, conduct an exhaustive safety/technical audit at least once a year. These audits should preferably be done by a group of staff dedicated only for this, or outsourced to an external agency.
  • Post audit, all rectification work should be taken up immediately, and inspected by the engineer in charge of the area. The AEE of the subdivision should randomly inspect 25% of the works, EE of the division 10% of the works, Superintending Engineer of the circle 5%, and the Zonal Chief Engineer 2% of the works.
  • The same protocol for inspections should be followed during new works too, such as modifying or expanding the network.

After the Whitefield accident, Bescom conducted a survey in November-December to identify hazardous spots. The survey found a total of 63,359 hazardous spots in the Bengaluru Urban area, to which Bengaluru South circle contributed the highest number (23,847 or 37.6%). Next came West circle (27.5%), followed by North (20.5%) and East (14%) circles.

Maintenance work has been completed in over half the spots (33,116). Works in the remaining 30,243 locations are progressing, says Shanthamallappa.

Note: In Part 2, a follow-up to this piece, we shall look at what citizens can do if they suffer injury/property damage in case of a Bescom-related electric accident.

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About Navya P K 35 Articles
Navya has 12 years of experience in journalism, covering development, urban governance and environment. She was earlier Senior Journalist, Citizen Matters, and Reporter, The New Indian Express. She has also freelanced for publications such as The News Minute, Factor Daily and India Together. Navya won the All India Environment Journalism Award, 2013, for her investigative series on the environmental violations of an upcoming SEZ in Bengaluru, published in Citizen Matters. She also won the PII-UNICEF fellowship in 2016 to report on child rights in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Navya has an MA in Political Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PG Diploma from the Asian College of Journalism.

1 Comment

  1. The two articles are good. But they touch only the fringe layer of the issue. What is the accountability
    of the officials/staff/escom if it is their fault for accident. Just payment of compensation is not sufficient
    Even that amount will come back to consumers loaded in the tariff

Comments are closed.