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Srisailam Power Plant Fire- Mishap or Mismanagement?

A large fire broke out at the Srisailam Left Bank Hydel Power Plant in Kurnool on 20th August killing 9 people. Here's a deeper look at the incident.

Fire at the Srisailam Left Bank Hydal Power Plant in Kurnool
CCTV camera images of the fire at the Power Plant (Source: PTI)

Nine lives were lost in a major fire that broke out at the Srisailam Leftbank Hydel Power Plant in Kurnool. The mishap occurred in the late hours of the evening at 10:30pm. The deceased included 7 plant employees and 2 employees from Amaron, a separate firm that supplies battery packs. These included a division engineer, four assistant engineers, two junior plant attendants and the two Amaron employees. Initial investigations show that these individuals were trapped in the lower deck when the fire broke out. They were said to be working on maintenance of the plant’s battery fittings when the mishap occurred.

Seventeen employees were on their shift on the unfortunate day. The fire started in unit-1 of the underground tunnel powerhouse. The 8 employees who were at work on the upper floor of the plant managed to escape leaving the 9 other employees trapped inside the flaming plant. These individuals were trying to escape the plant but realized that there were bleak chances of them escaping. One of the deceased, Assistant engineer Dharavath Sunder Naik (32) managed to speak to his family when he realized that there was no way to save himself. According to Sunder's wife, he asked them to take care of his children and wife as he could not escape from death. Sunder had recently recovered from COVID-19 following home isolation.

Deputy Engineer Srinivas Goud also managed to contact his family at around 11:30pm. According to his family, he informed them that there was no chance of him escaping from the death trap as the smoke had engulfed the plant. Interestingly, he mentioned that if the rescue team would not reach them in the next 30 minutes, there would be no luck for them to live. Reports suggest that the rescue operations were undertaken by personnel of the Fire Service Training Institute of the CISF along with the NDRF. The FSTI personnel were stationed at Hakimpet, a distance of 5 hours and 30 minutes from Srisailam. Rescue efforts conducted in time may have helped reduce casualties.

The incident came to light after multiple red flags were raised by multiple individuals about the poor maintenance of the plant and its accompanying structures. The video that has gone viral of people assumed as employees trying to douse an electric fire in one of the power station cabinets shows the lack of protective gear and disaster training protocol in the event of a mishap like the one that occurred that day. In light of the event, it must be noted how the cash-strapped state power utilities of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have done little to address safety issues at the plant over the years. This also begs to question how many other such facilities are a disaster waiting to happen. It must also be noted that on account of the initial investigation, the irregular and poor maintenance and upkeep of plant facilities stemming from the poor financial situation of the utilities may have caused the death of 9 employees.

After the mishap, new reports have also emerged of concerns over erosion of soil from the plunge pool of Srisailam Dam causing structural problems. These problems, although flagged and investigated in meetings, have not been addressed since. Officials of the Central Electricity Authority said that an amount of over 50 crore rupees would be needed to arrest the spread of the plunge pool and solve the problem. The ignorant nature of the officials and lack of funding from the authorities may be the cause of another disaster, this time involving the Krishna River.

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