The deadly monsoon: how rainwater may be causing electrical fatalities

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With India currently in the grip of monsoon rains, experts are warning that more needs to be done to prevent fatal electrical shocks caused by waterlogged streets, buildings and workplaces.


Credit iStock Anwarali Kapasi

Of course, it is impossible to think of a life without electricity, but you can never be too safe when it comes to electricity and live wiring. Electricity has long been recognised as a serious workplace hazard, and the risks and dangers associated with working around electrical installations and wiring cannot be ignored.

A lack of awareness of the dangers posed by electricity makes workers more vulnerable to fatal electrical shocks in their daily work environment.
According to data from India’s Central Electricity Authority (CIA), nearly 40 per cent of deaths in workplaces are caused by electrical incidents. There are reportedly around 13 electrocution deaths on an average day in Indian workplaces, which is thought to be the highest in the world.

Contact with power lines, a lack of ground-fault protection, electrical equipment not being used in the correct fashion and the unsafe use of extension and flexible cords are reportedly the most frequent causes of electrical injuries at work in India.

However, with parts of India being battered by rain now the monsoon season is in full swing, the number of workers dying due to electric shocks is rising.

Multiple deaths at sewage plant
On 19 July, 16 people, including a police sub-inspector and three home guards, were killed and 11 others were injured after they were electrocuted when the metal steps and railings of a bridge became electrically live in Chamoli district in the state of Uttarakhand.

The bridge, which is part of a sewage treatment plant (STP) operating as part of the Namami Gange project, a central government-led national conservation mission designed to stop pollution like sewage entering the River Ganga, spans the Alaknanda river near Pipalkoti village in Chamoli district.

According to media reports, the body of a security guard named Ganesh Lah was discovered on the morning of the incident at the riverbank of the STP after his family began looking for him when he failed to answer his phone during the night. Officials believe the guard was fatally electrocuted at some point during the night or early morning due to an electricity leak in the wiring of the STP.

Lah’s family, locals, police and security guards were gathered at the spot where his body was found as an inquest report was being prepared when they came into contact with a steel railing that runs alongside the STP, which was electrically live. As a result, 15 of those present were fatally electrocuted – one of whom was Lah’s father and another his brother – and 11 others were injured.

A magisterial inquiry led by the additional district magistrate of Chamoli subsequently concluded that faulty earthing had caused the steps and railing to become electrically live, causing the fatalities and injuries, Outlook India news website reported.

The magisterial probe also found that a joint venture of two companies responsible for the electrification system at the STP – Patiala-based Jai Bhushan Malik Contractors and Coimbatore-based Confident Engineering India Private Ltd – had violated safety rules and the terms of their contract.

The magistrate also recommended that the operator of the STP, the Uttarakhand government-owned public water supply and treatment organisation Jal Sansthan, cancel the contracts of the two companies and blacklist them from working in the state of Uttarakhand.

According to Outlook India’s news report, the magistrate also concluded that a lack of coordination between Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan and employees from the state’s electricity supply company Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited (UPCL) had contributed to the incident. The magistrate also called for electrical safety audits to be carried out at all STPs in Uttarakhand to prevent a similar incident occurring in the future.

Meanwhile, Chamoli circle officer Pramod Shah alleged that the collective negligence of the joint venture company, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan and UPCL led to the freak electrocution. The police arrested three people, one each from the joint venture, Jal Sansthan and UPCL, for gross negligence. Additional assistant engineer Hardev Lal of Jal Sansthan, joint venture company supervisor Pawan Chamola, and UPCL lineman Mahendra Singh were reportedly arrested for gross negligence.

Officials said the home guard personnel were thought to have died as they attempted to rescue the police officer. The state government has announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 1 lakh to those injured, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.

Rising water levels
The tragedy took place as water levels in most rivers in northern India rose due to record monsoon rains. The incessant rains have flooded roads and homes, causing landslides and building collapses that have been blamed for over 100 deaths.

Meanwhile, in the sprawling national capital of Delhi, after the Yamuna River was overwhelmed by torrential rains, residents have grappled with a severe flood situation that has submerged whole neighbourhoods and there have been numerous fatalities due to electrocution.

On 8 July, two men were fatally electrocuted at work in two separate accidents in East Delhi’s Shakarpur and Preet Vihar areas respectively.
In the first case, a 28-year-old man was killed while working at a sweet shop in the Shakarpur area. The worker was mixing masala in a grinder when he suffered an electric shock.

In the other case, 60-year-old Satender Negi was working in the kitchen area of a cafe in Preet Vihar while washing utensils when he suffered a fatal electric shock after coming into contact with a live electrical power board.
Although no arrests have been made, the police are investigating both cases.

Teacher electrocuted at New Delhi Railway Station
In another incident on 25 June, a 34-year-old teacher and freelance architect, Sakshi Ahuja, died of electrocution in a waterlogged parking area outside New Delhi Railway Station. It is thought she received a fatal shock after coming into contact with a live wire while clutching an electric pole for support amid heavy rainfall. Just a week later, an 18-year-old labourer, Sujit Kumar, died after suffering an electric shock in the basement of a block that was undergoing construction at the Delhi government’s Lok Nayak Hospital in central Delhi.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, local police believe Kumar stepped onto the basement floor – which was waterlogged by heavy rain – to switch on an electrical pump to remove water from the basement but was electrocuted while doing so. The investigators examined if any live wires in the waterlogged area could have caused the electric shock or if the electrical current was flowing in the body of the water pump and Sujeet may have accidentally touched it.

According to the first information report (FIR) prepared by police investigating the incident, Kumar had complained about loose electrical wires to several people involved in the work. His 19-year-old cousin Prince, who also worked at the site, alleged that the two men were not given safety equipment despite several requests, adding that Kumar died because of negligence by authorities. “Around a year ago, a similar electrocution incident had claimed a labourer’s life,” the FIR reads, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.

A case of death by negligence and negligent conduct has been booked against the building’s contractor. The work was being carried out by the Public Works Department (PWD) through a private construction company.
In a notice to the Delhi government over the electrocution of Kumar, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called for a report on the incident within four weeks.

In a statement, the NHRC said there appeared to have been “negligence” on the part of the hospital authorities and it had resulted in the loss of life.
In another incident on 20 July, a 22-year-old mason died after he accidentally touched a live wire left loose in a pit that had become damaged due to flooding from monsoon rains at Vishwakarma Colony near Kalindi Kunj in south Delhi.

The mason, named in media reports as Danish, was repairing the wall of the pit so an electric water pump could be re-installed to pump water from the ground floor to the first floor of a house. During the recent Delhi floods, the pump’s motor had been removed from the pit for repairs, but the wire that supplies electrical power to the motor was left loose. As Danish went inside the pit outside the house, he accidentally touched the loose wire and was electrocuted. The householder’s wife tried to help him, but she also received electric shocks, said the police.

Electrocution a major cause of accidental death
Electrocution deaths have long been one of the main causes of accidental deaths in India, alongside traffic accidents, drowning, accidental poisoning and falls.

According to government data, in the decade 2011–2021, over 113,000 people in India lost their lives due to fatal electric shocks. In 2021, the latest year for which National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB data) is available, there were 12,529 deaths attributed to electrocution in the country, averaging 34 deaths per day. Worryingly, both the number of deaths and their share in the total number of accidental deaths in the country are on the rise.

In 2012, 8,750 people were killed due to electrical shocks in India. The figure increased by 54 per cent to 13,446 in 2020 before falling slightly to 12,529 in 2021. Similarly, the share of electrocution in total accidental deaths was 2.20 per cent in 2012, but increased to 3.70 per cent in 2020 before showing a slight decline in 2021. Commentators say the reduction could be due
to the various Covid-19 lockdowns.

Madhya Pradesh in central India, for inexplicable reasons, continues to lead as far as electrocution-related deaths are concerned. Between 2012 and 2021, 19,417 people in the state lost their lives due to electrical shocks. Despite comprising only 6.2 per cent of the Indian population, it accounted for over 17 per cent of the total deaths caused by contact with an electric current.

In Uttar Pradesh, on average four people were electrocuted daily in 2022-23, including UP Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) staff, due to negligent safety procedures while restoring power supplies, poor maintenance of power assets, defective tools, accidental contact with live electric wires and various other reasons.

A total of 1,428 people were killed in 1,316 cases of electrocution, according to a report for the latest available year from the Directorate of Electrical Safety in Uttar Pradesh (DESUP), which was submitted to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) on 30 June. In contrast, back in 2021–22, a total of 1,279 people were electrocuted in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a lower number.

Among workers, the majority of the fatalities were reported at power distribution locations, such as sub-stations, transformers and poles carrying overhead high-tension wire. Twenty-four workers were electrocuted while working at transmission towers or sub-stations.

Meanwhile, in the case of Sakshi Ahuja at New Delhi Railway Station, although the police say that after losing balance, the mother of two grabbed an electricity pole for support and came into contact with exposed wires from a nearby electrical installation, some of her relatives believe she may have been electrocuted after stepping into a puddle through which electrical current from the exposed wires was running.

Taxi drivers present at the scene said Ahuja’s children and sister may have had a narrow escape as they were pulled out from the waterlogged lane just in time.

Reportedly, Ahuja remained stuck in the waterlogged road for nearly 25 minutes, with the cab drivers using wooden planks to try and save her. After she was finally pulled out, she was rushed to Lady Hardinge hospital in a taxi, where she was pronounced dead.

Claiming that Indian Railways were responsible for Ahuja’s death, the victim’s husband, Ankit Ahuja, said. “We cannot hold one person responsible for the crime. There are multiple layers at which government operates. The negligence should be identified by looking at the system as a whole.”

Deepak Kumar, a chief officer of Northern Railways, said that from preliminary investigation, it appears that the incident happened due to accumulation of water due to the rains, adding that there was a “current leakage from a cable due to insulation failure”, and the incident did not suggest any deficiencies in the railway’s working systems.

Meanwhile, just one day after Ahuja’s death, a 17-year-old lost his life due to an electric shock in Taimoor Nagar in Delhi. According to The Quint newspaper, the street was covered with water following heavy monsoon rainfall, and police officers told news agency ANI that the accumulated water had become a conductor of electricity, leading to the accident.

Significant risk of electrocution
Experts are now warning there is a significant risk of electrocution from loose electrical wires coming into contact with water due to heavy rainfall during the monsoon season.

A day after Ahuja’s death, Delhi’s power distribution company, BSES, issued an advisory urging people to stay away from electrical installations during monsoons.

Although the BSES has implemented several measures to try to reduce electrical safety risks from electrical installations, like power lines and sub-stations, during the monsoon, an official said consumers can play a important role in ensuring an incident-free monsoon by following simple safety guidelines.

Speaking to a private news channel, the division head of BSES Ajit Singh Kadian said that there are a number of agencies involved in preventing electrical safety incidents to the public and workers, particularly the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Delhi’s Public Works Department (PWD). “We must keep a check on the leakage issues, the iron poles, the power lines etc. …we should do it and we do it,” he added.

When asked about the authorities responsible, Kadian added that waterlogging is a big issue in Delhi and proper maintenance should be carried out. “MCD and PWD should ensure that electric poles are not left behind immersed in water, which are active and may lead to fatal cases.”


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