Delta Diaries: Electricity staff rushed off their feet restoring poles

Nagapattinam / Tiruvarur: There are no trees to blow them fresh air and there is just a bunch of candles to illuminate their nights. Twentyfour days after severe cyclonic storm Gaja hit the Cauvery delta region, power has not been restored to the entire population of the area.

It is estimated that two lakh electric poles were damaged or brought down when the cyclone barrelled down the districts of Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam. All these poles have to be either replaced or re-installed to restore power supply to the affected areas.

However, the problem is that the electricity department does not have enough labourers and resources to do this. Though the work is on at a frenetic pace with thousands of temporary contract labourers (TCL) doing the task under the leadership of line inspectors and assistant engineers, the lack of sufficient number of labourers has doubled their work, claim the employees.

This News Today correspondent, cruising through Panjanathikulam village, near Vedaranyam, Nagapattinam district, understood what they meant. There was a worker on every pole. In fact, they were the visible part of the relief work in every junction.

A junior engineer from TNEB, Narasimhan, who was setting up electric poles with a team of 15 TCLs, said, “We are ready to work throughout the next fortnight. But, it would be possible only if we have more workers. My team alone has set up at least 1,500 poles in the last 20 days. This is five to eight times the work that would be done by a team of 15 men in the same period of time.”

He suggested a remedy for the short staff situation. “There are over 15,000 TCLs across the State. If the government deputes them on a war-footing, we can solve the problem easily. Not all of them have to be deployed – even 10 per cent of them would be sufficient to give power supply to all the four districts in just five days,” Narasimhan said.

Sakthivel, a resident of the same village, said, “As of now, power supply is provided to houses, shops and other buildings along the Vedaranyam Main Road. Since the relief camp is located there, people are comfortable. That, too, only in the evenings. But, once they move to their houses – as they have to in a couple of days – it is going to be a terrible situation for them. Most trees have been uprooted and there is going to be less air circulation. Families with babies will suffer.”

Another team of Electricity Board workers at Aalangal village, near Tiruthuraipoondi, Tiruvarur district, face a similar obstacle. “There are just 10 of us in this team. We have been working non-stop for the past 20 days, without even proper food. We have been asked to work only till 6 pm as the areas that have already had the lines restored would be given power at nights. We assemble again at 8 am the next day,” said line inspector V Sivaraj.

One of the TCLs in Aalangal said, “If this continues, most of us will fall ill. There is also high work stress as we are asked to complete the work by 10 December. But the problem is that it is raining every now and then, when climbing the electric poles could be dangerous.”

He also said TCLs are not even given proper safety support like ropes, ladders, gloves or helmets. “We are doing our work in the midst of all these problems and still, we are being pushed to work faster.”

Wireman Thulasingam said, “So, we have planned to take a two-day break. We expect it will be granted. That is the only way for us to rest for a while and continue with the work again and get it done as soon as possible.”

As of now, towns and important villages in the districts including, Pudukottai, Pattukottai, Vedaranyam, Tiruthuraipoondi, Tiruvarur, Aayakaranpulam, Pushpavanam, Yenaathi and Peravurani have had their power supply restored. It might take another 15 days for TNEB to re-plant the electric poles in all of the disaster-hit areas, according to ground-level workers.

Santhosh Mathevan