Chamoli electrocution incident: Officials face FIR, suspensions

A day after 15 people died of electrocution at a sewage treatment plant (STP) under the Namami Gange project in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, police have on Thursday booked officials on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The 15 deaths took place on Wednesday during a protest against the earlier death of an operator-cum-caretaker, who had also been electrocuted.

Friday’s FIR was registered against one Pawan Chamola, a supervisor with the company handling the operation and maintenance of the plant, and “other responsible officials” who were not named. They were booked under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC and section 13/31 of the Dangerous Machines (Regulation) Act, 1983.

The action was also taken against other officials, including additional assistant engineer Hardev Lal, who was suspended by the chief general manager of Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan in accordance with the directives of Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami. Lal was responsible for the proper monitoring of the work of the firm operating and maintaining the STP. He was suspended for alleged negligence in the discharge of departmental tasks and responsibilities.

In addition, Kundan Singh Rawat, junior engineer-in-charge at the Electricity Distribution Division of Gopeshwar, was suspended by the general manager of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd (UPCL).

Ahead of the incident that killed 15 people, the body of the operator-cum-caretaker, identified as Ganesh, was found at around 9.30 am on Wednesday. He was suspected to have been electrocuted the previous night.

At around 11.35 am on Wednesday, when a group of local residents were protesting the operator’s death, 26 people including the protesters, police, and Jal Sansthan officials came in contact with a charged hand-railing of a staircase at the site, leading to the death of 15 people.

Of the 11 injured, six were sent by helicopter to AIIMS Rishikesh and other hospitals after the incident. The other five were airlifted to Rishikesh AIIMS on Thursday. Two of the injured are reportedly in serious condition, while the others are stable.

The FIR was registered after UPCL claimed that before the second incident, a lineman fixed a jumper that was causing hindrance in the power supply, and that they were not informed that an accident had occurred at the STP premises on the previous day. UPCL also claimed that the accident happened after the STP operator turned on the main switch, causing a current to spread around the tin shed.

“Prima facie it has come to notice that there is no fault in the transformer and electric meter installed within the premises of the sewage treatment plant. It is suspected that there might have been some internal fault beyond the meter in the premises,” the UPCL said in a statement.

However, talking to The Indian Express on Thursday, both supervisor Pawan Chamola and Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, executive engineer of the Jal Sansthan in Gopeshwar, rejected UPCL’s claim that it was not informed about an accident having occurred at the STP premises the previous day, and said that even though there was no written exchange of information with the UPCL, the lineman had been working in the area where the body was lying.

“He was the same lineman who took a shutdown at 11.15 am to fix the issue and restored power at 11.35 am. The lineman came to the STP at 10 am, and the police force and other people were there. The body was right there. He was informed about the incident causing his death,” said Srivastava.

Chamola, who was named in the FIR registered, said no switch was turned on at the STP before the incident that killed 15 people. He said several electrical panels, including those that operate the whole plant, had been burnt after the first incident (in which the operator was killed) itself.

According to the UPCL, Director (Operations) M L Prasad and Chief Engineer (Distribution) Garhwal Region have arrived at the site of the incident. For immediate relief, UPCL headquarters has transferred a sum of Rs 25 lakhs to the concerned department.

The deceased included a police sub-inspector and three home guards. The SI, Pradeep Rawat, was the Pipalkoti police outpost in-charge and had been given the charge of Chamoli police station for just two days because its in-charge was away on work.

The father of 27-year-old Ganesh, the operator who died in the first incident, was also among the deceased in the second incident. Others who died in the incident were Homeguards Mukunde Ram, Gopal and Sobat Lal; Harmani village residents Surendra, Devi Lal, Yogendra Singh, Surendra Singh, Manoj Kumar, Pramod Kumar, and Deepu Kumar; Rangtola residents Sumit Aswal, Sukhdev and Mahipal; and Sobat Lal’s son Vipin.

Meanwhile, CM Dhami reached Chamoli on Thursday and met the relatives of the deceased and the injured.

Uttarakhand Chief Secretary S S Sandhu has issued directives to all deputy chief secretaries, principal secretaries, and secretaries to conduct immediate testing of electricity supply arrangements in all projects, establishments, and government offices in view of the Chamoli incident.

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