New year has brought conditions of extreme cold for entire northern region of India. Kashmir also has been no exception. The temperatures at many places in the valley, have gone below zero degree Celsius and there has been a very heavy snow fall in the valley and surrounding areas. The Kashmir valley is situated amongst the Pir-Panjal mountain ranges. These mountain ranges also have received very heavy snow fall, which has affected the communications between Kashmir and rest of the country. In the vicinity of famous Jawahar Tunnel, the road between Jammu and Srinagar via Pathankot, also has received very heavy snow fall, as this road passes here through very rough hilly and mountain region.
The main feeder lines which supply electrical power to the Kashmir valley, were damaged at few places due to the snowfall and snow blizzard conditions, leading the entire valley into complete power outage on 6th January 2012. The common citizens were subjected to great hardships and difficulties because of non availability of electrical power in such conditions of extreme cold. The power lines were damaged near about Ramban and Makarkote towns. All this region is mountainous terrain at a height of 8000 to 9000 feet and is mostly inaccessible. Even at peak of summer, maintenance teams find it a tough job, to carry out any repairs on the power lines here. After such heavy snow fall it was an impossible job even to reach the base of the steel towers, which carried the power cables. The power lines here , between villages of Kishanpur and Vagur, are owned by a Government owned company, Power Grid Corporation of India and responsibility of maintaining these, rests with this company only.
However, company officials plainly told Jammu & Kashmir Government on January 8th, that it is impossible for them to rectify the power lines, as they can not even reach the power cable towers. As a last resort, Jammu & Kashmir Government decided to call in Indian Air Force.
Air Force agreed to carry out an Helicopter flight along with the power lines between Ramban and Banihal villages. During the flight, it was observed, that the power cables fixed on a steel tower near the village of Ramsu were damaged. The tower was located in such a terrain that it was quite impossible to land a Helicopter near it’s base. Considering the heavy equipment that was required and the nature of job, it was found that the maintenance team had to be dropped near the base of the tower otherwise they would have probably taken an entire day, just to reach the tower and adequate daylight time would not be available for carrying out actual repairs.
For these reasons, air force decided to drop the maintenance team right next to the tower. The terrain around the tower was very rough and the weather was very windy. Helicopter pilots found it very difficult to keep the craft hovering steadily at one place and required tremendous skill and strength of mind. On morning of January 8th, a M.I. 17 helicopter took off from the Udhampur base of the Indian air force, carrying power cable maintenance team along with their gear weighing more than 5 tons and landed them at Chandarkote near the Ramsu village.
From Chandarkote helipad, this team was lifted by light weight Cheetah helicopters to the defective cable carrying steel tower. The helicopters were brought down to a height of about 8 or 9 feet in extremely windy conditions. The maintenance team and their gear was dropped on the ground near the tower by means of a helicopter mounted winch from that height of about 8 feet around 4.30 PM.
Within next few hours, the maintenance team of Power Grid Corporation repaired the damaged cables and they were again lifted up by the helicopters from the site of the tower, and brought back. After the power cables were repaired, the power supply was resumed over entire Kashmir Valley on inext day(January 9th) to the extent of 98%.
Because of ths help from the Indian air force, this difficult task was completed in a very efficient manner. However number of questions remain to be answered. This Government owned company, Power Grid Corporation, has been given this task of erection and maintenance of power cables in this hilly region where snow fall and snow blizzards happen every year. It is surprising and shameful that this company does not have suitable infrastructure for carrying out maintenance work under such weather conditions. Many similar companies abroad have their own helicopters or can arrange to take them on lease. Power Grid Corporation is likely to face similar situations in the future also and should have full infrastructure along with helicopters, ready to cope up with such situations. We can only hope that Power grid would not have to depend upon air force in future.
1 February 2012