By Soroor Ahmed
The breakdown of grids on July 30-31 exposed the over-dependency of the people on electricity. Power cut for 12, 24 hours or even more hours is nothing new for any particular locality or township of India. But that about half of the country would plunge into darkness for hours is something of great concern for the national security too.
If we can not make the whole system fool-proof it is high time to examine too much dependency on electricity alone.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies it better than hundreds of stranded electric-powered trains and lakhs of passengers at various points––jungles, hills, bridges, isolated village etc. With no steam engines around and very few diesel engines available at various stations the railways could do little but let many of these trains stand where they were for hours.
Not far back the railways had decided not to run long distance trains in the Maoists-hit region because of security reason. But on these two days passengers were left at the mercy of God. It was virtually not possible to pull all the trains to their destination by diesel engines.
As the northern grid broke down at 2:30 in the morning on July 30, when everybody was fast asleep, the power consumption was not very high. But on the following day three grids collapsed after mid-noon, when the demand of electricity was at its peak.
From security point of view a prolong widespread breakdown, especially between sunset and sunrise, is dangerous.
There is a strong lobby within the railway, which opposes the electrification. They were vindicated on these two days. True diesel engines may not be a better alternative as we import oil from abroad. There may be an argument that too much dependence on diesel may not be good for economy.
But then producing electricity by burning thousands of tonnes of coal, a source of energy, and wasting millions of gallons of water and causing massive displacement is no better alternative too. These thermal power plants not only causes pollution but also render thousands of kilometres of fertile land useless because of the fly-ash the chimneys emanate.
Those who lobby in favour of diesel engines for trains argue that India may never be able to fulfil its demand for electricity till it abandon the electrification as electric engines consume too much power. “We spend more diesel in running big and small generator-sets all over the country then on trains. This is simply because we are not able to provide electricity to the people,” a very senior railway official, while talking to this correspondent, argued.
This is not for the first time that trains run by electric engines have become a source of problem. Whenever a train accident––even a minor ones––take place the overhead wires get disconnected making it impossible even for relief train to reach the spot. The accident relief trains had to rely on diesel locomotives.
True, today a country’s economic growth is also measured by the power it consumes. But then most developed countries have alternative system too. The way the entire northern half of India came to standstill gave us an opportunity not to rely too heavily on electricity alone.
The tragedy is that when we are not able to produce enough electricity and maintain discipline in drawing power from grids we waste electricity in organizing day-night cricket matches and Indian Premier League. What an irony it is for the country which can not afford to provide power for irrigation and to students to study.
Recently, a national newspaper, carried a story as to how civil service aspirants of Sasaram, a town in Bihar converge to the railway station after sunset every evening to study on platform as the town seldom gets light to study. This notwithstanding tall claims made by the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, of changing the face of the state.
And Sasaram is represented in Lok Sabha by none else but the Speaker of Indian Parliament, Meira Kumar.