Fears of electrocution as heavy rains likely to lash Karachi

Updated 06 Jul 2020

Email

KHALEEQUDDIN holds the picture of his son Azhan, who died from electrocution in 2017. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
KHALEEQUDDIN holds the picture of his son Azhan, who died from electrocution in 2017. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: Rain is known to have brought happiness in almost every part of the world and Karachi is no exception. But, here in this long-neglected metropolis even a moderate shower can bring with it deaths and casualties thanks to the fast-deteriorating infrastructure, growing number of unplanned localities and incompetence of civic bodies and local institutions.

Since long, precious lives have been lost every year during rain but it was only last year that the people at the helm of affairs launched a probe that found out that it was none other than the K-Electric whose negligence resulted in the death of some 19 people in Karachi in two spells of rain in 2019.

Amid prediction of heavy downpour in the metropolis that may cause urban flooding, fears of the poor power supply infrastructure haunt Karachiites again as they are already suffering from unannounced loadshedding, frequent power outages in the name of “technical faults” and experiencing consistent overbilling despite their shrinking income.

Last year 19 people died from electrocution and a Nepra probe held K-Electric responsible for the deaths

Work on 10pc electric pole in city remaining

Will there be no electrocution in Karachi this monsoon due to poor infrastructure and deteriorating supply system of the power utility? Even the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) doesn’t sound much confident to answer this crucial question.

“Our monitoring team regularly visits the sites and keep check on all the operational system,” said Sajid Akram, the spokesman for the country’s power watchdog.

He was asked about the status of all those fault lines and loopholes found by Nepra in the KE’s system that had killed 19 people in Karachi in just two spells of rains in July and August 2019.

“When we conducted a probe last year and found flaws in the system, the KE was asked to fix all those issues. As per a compliance report of the company, they have fixed some 90 per cent of the electricity poles and the rest 10 per cent would be done by July 31. So one can’t guarantee what would happen or not but obviously if any wrong is found again, Nepra would move in line with defined rules.”

Nepra had last year formally held K-Electric responsible for 19 deaths from electrocution in Karachi and started legal proceedings against it. According to the investigation committee report, KE was held responsible not only for 19 deaths due to electrocution during rains but also breakdown of power supply for a longer duration.

The investigation committee, which was constituted by Nepra in August 2019 under Section 27-A of Nepra Act 1997, had submitted its report in September after detailed field visits and examination of power installations where fatalities had been reported.

The probe team found that the KE violating Section 4(g) of Performance Standards and Distribution Rules 2005 that deals with leakage of current and Section 7(3)b under which the utility failed to submit an immediate report to the regulator. Besides, the company was also found in violation of distribution code. The leakage of current from LT poles indicated that they were not properly earthed.

The action from the regulators and claim of the KE of fixing the flaws, however, falls short for the conviction of the Karachiites.

Living in the city abandoned by the federation and ignored by the provincial authorities, their belief on official claims has long been overshadowed by the fear.

‘Lawless state’

Fingers crossed and prayers are on that no such incident happens this year. History, though, haunts Karachiites to be ready for the worst. Shahid Nasim is a witness to one such tragedy.

“I lost my 21-year-old nephew in the rains last year due to electrocution,” he said. “The family is still in trauma and shock. We experienced this pain last year but every year we hear about deaths due to electrocution in rains. I even know a few people who suffered the same kind of losses over the years. Sometimes, we feel that we are living in lawless state. I wonder why the probe was conducted only last year when it’s an annual feature.”

Nepra initiative and then the report against the KE were not compiled due to effectiveness of the justice system or transparent performance of the regulators. It was due to mainstream and social media which developed the momentum and pushed the authorities to do their job.

Imagine what could happen if the gruesome videos of three friends dying helplessly in the DHA area in August 2019 while sticking to an electric pole in Khayaban-e-Sehar would not have gone viral?

Could any reaction from the top be expected if the footage of bodies of 10-year-old Muhammad Ahmed and 12-year-old Abir Ahmed lying in North Nazimabad were not shared by Karachiites during last July downpour?

Who could ever be held responsible for the deaths of dozens of people if the heart-wrenching pictures of nine-years-old Masooma’s body were not timely snapped and shared on social media by her neighbours, who could only see her dying in North Karachi’s Sector 5C-3 when she was caught by a KE pole while playing in the same rainfall outside her house?

Hardly before last year, any inquiry was conducted or any family was approached by the regulators. Khaleequddin emerges as one of the examples of tragic incidents in monsoon rains in Karachi. He lost nine-years-old son, Azhaan, in 2017 in Model Colony area.

“It was 2017 monsoon rains and Eidul Azha was also around the corner,” he said with tears rolling down his cheeks carrying photos of his deceased son. “In our street there was an electric pole which the neighbours reported to the KE after a few minor incidents of electrocution. No one paid heed and no one came to fix that. It was Eidul Azha season and children were excited about the [sacrificial] animals. That was the moment when my son heard about arrival of a cow in the street.”

Crying non-stop, Khaleequddin couldn’t share further details. His younger brother, Taufeequddin, then came forward and narrated that how Azhaan only went out to see the cow. But unaware of the danger, he came into contact with the KE pole.

“We are still in a judicial process seeking court’s verdict to win justice for Azhaan,” said Taufeequddin.

73 have died since 2014

More than 70 persons lost their lives in rain-related incidents between 2014 and 2019.

Amid intensified criticism against the city administration, provincial government and KE, many remain ignorant of the fact that the 19 deaths in last year’s rains were not the first episode of its kind as every year monsoon wreaks havoc on the city’s ill-maintained electricity and sewerage systems and causes dozens of deaths.

Data compiled by hospitals and figures appearing in the mainstream media suggests that since 2014 only one year had witnessed no death, because the city did not receive rain in 2018.

According to the six-year data, 73 persons had lost their lives in rain-related incidents in the city.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020