Hurricane Fani that ravaged Puri, Cuttack Bhubaneswar and other places has not only exposed Odisha Government’s inability to countenance the frequent cyclones, it also shows that there is no long-term planning.
Despite the tropical storms visiting Odisha regularly damaging precious electrical infrastructure, the government hasn’t been serious enough to build a cyclone resilient supply –line ,while Andhra Pradesh has superbly done it.
Cyclone-prone Andhra Pradesh became the first state in India to provide electricity through underground cable system. The idea behind massive changeover from the conventional pole system to underground cabling was to eliminate power supply failures due to cyclones and flash floods.
When Cyclone Hudhud devastated the entire power supply network leaving the Discoms and AP Transco bleeding with heavy losses, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu directed AP Transco and AP Genco officials to plan for underground cabling across the coastal districts of Srikakulam,Vizianagaram,Vishakhapatnam ,East Godavari and West Godavari. After a series of meetings with international banks, AP Transco managed to rope in the three banks to fund the project.
Some 48,000 poles were replaced in one month to provide electricity supply to over 28.8 lakh consumers in the three north coastal Andhra districts – a rare achievement by any state government. In tandem, AP Transco utilized the funds to modernize the transmission and distribution system to improve service to the power consumers.
Not only Andhra Pradesh, all major cities of Saurashtra and Kutch region and three important pilgrim places in Gujarat have also gone for underground electricity cables. The state-run power distribution company Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (PGVCL), which supplies power to Saurashtra and Kutch region has converted 480km of overhead high tension power cables into an underground cable network.
Major cities covered under this project include Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Porbandar and Bhuj in Kutch. Key pilgrim towns like Palitana in Bhavnagar, Dwarka and Somnath have also been covered under the project.
Not that the Odisha government didn’t make an effort in this regard. The problem was that the underground cable work got mired in controversy. To provide uninterrupted, reliable and stable power supply to consumers and public services in the geographical areas of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri the State Capital Region Improvement in Power System (SCRIPS) scheme was taken up. But, as with every other project, the much- glorified underground cabling system has remained unfinished even after five years of initiation.
According to Project Manager – SCRIPS Nihar Pradhan, more than 80 per cent of the project work has been completed. Once finished, the SCRIPS scheme will replace the existing radial connectivity in electrical network with ring connectivity to ensure uninterrupted power flow. Besides, power supply to household consumers in the City would be made on smart grid mode through supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology.
The underground cable project was conceptualized after cyclone Phailin struck the southern districts causing large-scale devastation to power infrastructure. The scheme got to a start in 2015-16 with a five-year timeline. The entire project was to be completed at a cost of 1,500 crore.An amount 350 crore was allocated in the first phase with a cut-off date of two years.
The underground cable project was originally planned to be executed in two phases with the overhead 33 KV and 11 KV power lines being laid underground in 350 km area in Bhubaneswar.
But the scheme experienced several changes after the Smart City project was implemented. The first phase project was scheduled to complete before August 2018, but got delayed due to Wold Cup Hockey followed by Elections. Also, several smart grids are yet to be taken up within the city.
The biggest advantage of underground power cabling is that the people would avail uninterrupted power even during natural disasters like cyclone and storms. Says former Executive Director at Gopalpur Ports Limited and former President Engineering at Pipavav port Prosono Panigrahy, ‘Paradip Port Authorities have installed underground cables. This was the lesson they have learnt after the 1999 cyclone. The outcome is that water supply and electric supply are not disrupted so long as supply to the grid is available. Government of Odisha should learn from Paradip Port.’
Converting the power line to underground network not only reduces the power outage and ensures uninterrupted and consistent power supply without fluctuations. It also reduces the chances of power disruption during monsoon.
In what seems to be a case of too little and too late, electric poles aren’t going to be a thing of the past anytime sooner, thanks to Odisha government’s flawed priorities and myopic visualization.
Fani which trounced 10,000 electric poles in Bhubaneswar could have been evaded had the Naveen Patnaik government taken the underground cable work with all seriousness, just as the Chandrababu Naidu government did.
If it was the worst nightmare for the government and the CESU that supplies electricity to Bhubaneswar and its suburbs, the five lakh consumers too had a horrific experience. The cry for electricity and the screeches and yells after the landfall have brought to fore the importance of underground electricity cabling.
But, nobody is sure when the underground cabling in the capital city will be completed. Although the project was re-scheduled to complete by June 2019, it appears way- off after Cyclone Fani. In what seems to be a case of too little and too late, electric poles aren’t going to be a thing of the past anytime sooner, thanks to Odisha government’s flawed priorities and myopic visualization.