For the Department of Electrical Inspectorate, which has to ensure the safety of all electrical installations, its biggest drawback is also its biggest excuse for evading responsibility.
With less than 200 engineers at the Inspectorate’s command, it is widely accepted that it would be unreasonable to expect them to stick to schedules and meet the annual building safety inspection targets. For instance, there are electrical inspectors in the state, especially in Ernakulam and Palakkad where there is high density of small scale industries, who have been given the impossible target of inspecting over 100 buildings a month.
“Though many electrical inspectors struggle to meet targets, there are some who use the alibi of staff shortage to skip conducting inspections,” a former Inspectorate official said. The inspection scheduled is drawn for 10 months a year, from May to March of the next year. As per the law, the approval from the electrical inspector (EI) is necessary for the following electrical installations: HT or EHT industries, multi-storeyed buildings (those taller than 15 metres), installations involving stand by generator, those having neon sign boards, X-ray units, lifts and escalators, and temporary connections where more than 100 persons are likely to assemble.
Staff shortage affects safety right at the construction phase. If an EI finds defects in the installation of a building or industrial concern, he will ask the owner to make the changes and produce a compliance report.
“But because of the staff shortage it has become quite common for owners to simply state in writing that they have complied with the guidelines and secure a safety certificate. At best, the Inspectorate can conduct some random checks that will cover not more than 20 percent of the buildings where compliance verification has to be carried out,” the former official said. Whether a building has complied with stipulated electrical standards will be known only a year later, when the EIs visit the place for annual inspection.
An official at the Inspectorate, even while conceding that inspection targets were not being met, said that high-rise apartments were also to blame.
“It is often the case that the concerned people, say the office-bearers of a flat, will not be present when our team visits the place. In most cases, they avoid us purposefully,” the official said. There could be two reasons. One, the apartment complex would not have put in place the changes asked for by the Inspectorate at the time of approving the installation a year, or years, ago. Two, the recommendations of the EIs would mean more investment to raise the safety standards of installations.
According to the official, electrical accidents are less in industrial units than in highrises.