Work in progress: Old Kashi, reforms to remove power wire clutter

In 2017, PUVNL awarded the consultancy contract for Old Kashi to Power Grid
On the congested road leading towards Dashashwamedh ghat in Varanasi, people, rickshaws, bikes, and cows all move at the same pace. But the view overhead is a stark contrast to this chaos.

There are no dreary electricity wires hanging loose, no rusty pillars, or dilapidated transformers, thanks to the reform of electricity supply in an 8 km area near the ghats. This is a first for any constituency in Uttar Pradesh. 

Typically, the integrated power development scheme (IPDS) is implemented by the state’s power distribution company. But for Varanasi’s transformation, the credit rests with government-owned Power Grid Corporation of India. The scope of work under IPDS includes renovating power distribution, 100 per cent metering, underground cabling and smart metering.  

Executives on conditions of anonymity said they assisted the Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Ltd (PUVNL) because the city is the Prime Minister’s constituency. Monitored by ministries, Varanasi was slated to be made the model town of power reforms.

In 2017, PUVNL awarded the consultancy contract for Old Kashi to Power Grid. KEI Industries was selected contractor through competitive bidding and EESL installed heritage street lights.

Under the first phase, the Rs 432-crore project covered 14 localities. Sixty per cent of the cost was funded by the Centre. For the rest, PUVNL took a loan from Power Finance Corporation. Power Grid was to get a consultancy fee of Rs 50 crore, but it did not claim the amount and included it in its CSR commitments.

For Power Grid, this was the second such project, first being Goa. “Power Grid doesn’t deal in projects below 33 kv (last mile connection to households). That was a challenge, but so was the structure of the area we were to operate in,” V N Singh, senior general manager, Power Grid, said. 

The congested Old Kashi area comprises Dashashwamedh, Manikarnika ghats, Kashi Vishwanath temple, and the popular Godauliya, Lanka market areas, among others.

Take Manikarnika ghat. The lane is very narrow and, unlike other cremation ghats, the site operates round the clock. “We got a 20-minute window after midnight to do construction activities. So, we dug a metre every day in those 20 minutes and put in the cables,” said an employee.

The deadline was two years and every day was a new challenge. “At times there was VVIP movement or the administration stopped our work as some festival would draw immense crowd. We also had to keep religious sensibilities in mind while digging,” a KEI employee said.

Power Grid installed two new sub-stations including one GIS system — the most advanced tech in power transmission and only the second such in the country. The GIS system was installed at the crowded chowk area as it takes less space and doubles power supply. Around 1,510 km of underground cable was laid and capacity augmentation of nine transformers was done. 

The project has shown results. The transmission losses of the area went down to 9.9 per cent last year compared to 17.4 per cent when the project started in November 2016. Energy theft is now nil and power supply is uninterrupted. 

“The work done by Power Grid is a benchmark shown by a central PSU to a discom. We have commissioned the project in the most difficult place of the country. Others have to just replicate it,” said Singh. 

PUVNL chairman and managing director did not respond to queries.

For Power Grid, KEI, and PFC the work is done. They have packed their bags and have even pulled out of the second phase, which is to cover the railway station, tourist footfall areas and VIP zones. For PUVNL, however, the task has begun. It has to replicate a similar success story across the city.

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