Just a foot of snow throws life out of gear which is a system failure due tolack of accountability at the top management level
Kashmir has seen many heavy snowfalls in the past. In fact, sometimes even three feet of snow has accumulated in a day or so. Because of massive and sudden snow falls in the past the government had imported German snow cutters and snow clearance machines which were being handled by the Mechanical Engineering Department. In western countries these machines are geared up and in fact these start moving as soon as snow starts accumulating. No body waits for the snow to stop to clear it. Few years back when these machines were first commissioned, these too were started as soon as snow had started accumulating on the roads. If the clearance is delayed, it causes ice formation and it is difficult for these machines to remove the ice. One remembers snow clearance in Gulmarg where the machines would be working round the clock, even during the night. These are fitted with heaters in the driving cabin and have huge search lights.
As regards lanes in the various localities in the city, these used to be taken care of by the Municipal Corporation. Even they too had acquired small snow clearance machines good for smaller roads and lanes etc. Some years back the head of the corporation would personally supervise the operation. On the Facebook many missed that dynamic guy. One senior bureaucrat mentioned that unfortunately, favouritism has taken its toll. We have square pegs in round holes! For administration to be successful especially in unusual conditions, it is essential to have the right man in the right place. This depends upon the Chief Executive who has to be familiar with the aptitude and capability of each pivotal officer and make all these officers fully accountable for any laxity in their performance.
The power system was also hit badly but there was comparatively quick recovery. Here, the system and not the personnel handling it are in a mess. We have the worst distribution system anywhere in the world. The low voltage lines at some places pass on trees! At a number of places in the downtown area the individual connections are a jumble of electric wires. It is a miracle that these junctions survive the snowfall and other vagaries of the weather. Keeping the power running is purely due to the efforts and the risks taken by the linemen. Without proper winterized clothing and other safe equipment, they ensure the continuity of the distribution system at great risk to their own lives. In fact, during the recent snowfall, two linemen were electrocuted. Even earlier there have been many instances of these people getting killed during their line of duty. However, they hardly get the commensurate compensation. If a soldier is killed on the border, his dependents get almost 20 lakhs as compensation. Why not the same to the person who loses his life while serving the nation in some other vital capacity?
J & K is supposed to have the highest transmission losses in the country. Apart from that some of the 33 kv lines are very vulnerable to the vagaries of weather especially heavy snowfalls, thunderstorms and so on. Even during the recent snowfall, these lines going out of the main grid station were snapped due to fallen trees. Apart from this the transformers in different localities need continuous monitoring and maintenance. Unfortunately, the consumers are equally guilty for letting the transformers get damaged by overloading the system. Quite often people use more load than what they are supposed to be paying for, by theft of the electric power through illegal hooking of service lines!
In spite of the initial failure, the system did recover by the efforts of the field staff in most of the sectors. The main problem is of management. If the managers have the dedication and capability, the system will work. Ultimately, it boils down to the factof the entire system being geared up well in advance for such emergencies. This involves many dry runs but that is possible once the top leadership is geared for that. They can only be geared if there is strict accountability at the top level and the right people are placed in the decision making positions. Here one should also take into account the Peter’s Principle of management which says that every person in an organization finally rises to the level of his inefficiency.
While talking about the field staff, one must mention the five month long total shut down. Most of the civic services did work and at least these did not totally collapse simply thanks to the field staff that carried on their work in all situations. It has been observed that the ground level field staff has more interaction with the common people in every localitythan the top management level. They need to be encouraged and looked after well by way of equipment, clothing and all other facilities. Incidentally, a senior bureaucrat from outside the state remarked that he does not at all know who the electric lineman is in their area. In fact, he mentioned that there is no need for him to know as the system works automatically in all emergencies. Something similar needs to be done here. Now that we have lived through this minor episode, it would be worthwhile for all concerned to review and gear up all the systems as we still have a long period of winter left. This is more essential in view of the unpredictable weather caused by the climate change all over the world. Let us pray and hope this is done!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired). Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir