Shocked and left to die

Gangman trainee was a new post created by Tangedco less than 2 years ago for doing physical works like digging for pole installation, laying cables, transportation of poles and stringing of conductors but they’re being used for doing electrical work. Lack of safety gear and training has led to the electrocution of 35 workers across the State, allege trade unions. DT Next reports
Representative image
Representative imageIllustration: Saai

CHENNAI: Murugan (32), a gangman trainee, was electrocuted when he had climbed onto a distribution transformer at Jolarpet on Friday. He was the 35th trainee to be killed since March 2021, when the post was established by Tangedco, which has recruited 9,600 trainees till now.

Gangman trainees have been hired for doing physical works like digging for pole installation, laying cables, transportation of poles and stringing of conductors but they’re also being utilised for doing electrical work, which has led to electrocution of workers, allege trade unions.

Representative image
Workers’ laxity to blame for deaths: Tangedco

Murugan had climbed onto a transformer to attend to a fault following a power outage reported by a small-scale unit near Mangammal Pond at Jolarpet. A Tangedco official said, “Only after an investigation can the reason for the accident be ascertained”.

Educated and young

On October 27, K Karthik (27), another gangaman trainee, was electrocuted when working on an overhead power line.

“He had climbed the electricity pole for reconnection work when he got electrocuted, fell on a stone and suffered a head injury. Later, he died,” lamented his brother, Perumal.

Karthik, a native of Arakkonam, was working at Ambur in Tirupathur district. After studying mechanical engineering, the 27-year-old became a gangman trainee in March last year after unsuccessfully writing the TNPSC exams.

A deceased gangman’s wife said that she was struggling to meet her ends meet after her husband was electrocuted.

“I have a three-year-old daughter. After my husband’s death, I work for a daily wage. Till now, we’ve not got Rs 3 lakh compensation that’s supposed to be paid for his death,” she said. “I’ve no clarity on he was electrocuted. Whenever I ask about it to the assistant engineer, he’d simply tell me to let it go and apply for the job under compassionate grounds.”

Forced to do dangerous work

A gangman trainee affiliated with the Central Organisation of Tamil Nadu Electricity Employees said that they were forced to do every menial work at section offices.

“Due to a shortage of field workers, the gangman trainees are engaged in all types of work including working on live lines. Though we were recruited to do other forms of physical labour, we’re asked to attend to faults on overhead lines, feeder lines, distribution transformers, sub-stations and others. We’re forced to work without weekly offs. Most of the gangman are working under pressure,” he said.

He lamented that till now, there was no clarity on the job description of a gangman. “As per the information availed through RTI from Tangedco’s Personnel department, a gangman’s work includes digging of holes for installing poles, physically transporting these poles, stringing them up, etc, under the supervising authority, and carrying out ‘miscellaneous works directed by the section officer/supervising authority’,” he quoted the RTI. “But they’re forced to do every menial job there is under the guise of ‘miscellaneous work’.”

The general secretary of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board Engineers Association, A Sekkizhar, blamed the lethargic attitude of the board for the death of 35 gangmen.

“They’re not filling up existing vacancies. Without engaging qualified and experienced workers, they’re unnecessarily using gangmen for live wire works leading to electrocution. This is against the affidavit filed by Tangedco to the Madras High Court while recruiting them,” he pointed out.

Tangedco to Madras HC

In the affidavit submitted by Tangedco to the Madras High Court, the chief engineer had stated that a person recruited as a gangman would not be required to carry out any livewire works.

“The same would be done by field assistants, who as per the service conditions and settlements, are required to do such work. The gangman are recruited to merely do non-electrical works such as digging, erecting poles etc. Therefore, it’s incorrect to state that the gangman would be perform duties that are similar to that of the field assistant or the abolished post of ‘mazdoor’… Therefore the contentions of the petitioners that the gangman would perform work which is being done by helpers/field assistants is incorrect.”

On the need for gangman posts, the chief engineer said that it was created due to the spike in demand for electricity to new homes, establishments, factories and companies.

“Essential manpower is required to carry out groundwork like digging, building poles and other non-technical work,” he explained. “Plus, whenever there’s a natural disaster, they had to seek manpower from other electricity boards of neighbouring states. It’s in such circumstances that the post of gangman was created.”

Few follow rules

After the TNEBEAs and other unions took up the issue of the spate of gangman deaths, superintendent engineers in some of the distribution circles issued instructions to their subordinates on engaging gangman trainees for field works under supervision.

The chief engineer of Coimbatore North Distribution Circle, in his instructions on October 18, stated that gangman should be utilised for field work only under proper supervision.

“All safety precautions must be strictly adhered to while entrusting the work. In case, they’re utilised for live line works under unavoidable circumstances, proper clearance should be availed,” he instructed. “The work spot should be firmly earthed on both ends thereby ensuring that the portion of the line is completely dead prior to taking up the work. The above instructions should be followed scrupulously without fail.”

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