Express press service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Although the municipality has replaced nearly 50% of streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights, lack of timely maintenance is proving to be a problem, leaving the capital in the dark. Poorly lit streets, especially around residential areas, pose a serious threat to residents, motorists and pedestrians.

Residential areas of the city plunge into darkness after dusk, as the majority of streetlights have become extinguished due to lack of maintenance. According to officials, due to the pandemic outbreak, proper and timely maintenance of the streetlights had not taken place for the past two years.

“Most of the streetlights in our residential neighborhood have been out for five months. We have been talking about it with the authorities since last December, but the lights have not yet been repaired. Pedestrian paths are in a dilapidated state and without adequate lighting, commuters find it difficult to use the roads. It’s really dangerous after a late night. We have delivered a memorandum to the mayor but no action has been taken so far,” said Sashidharan Nair, President of Plamoodu-Thekkumoodu Residents Association.

There are approximately 90,000 streetlights in the state capital. The civic body and the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) have jointly replaced around 39,000 lamps with LED lamps. The civic body pays around Rs 30 lakh every month as an electricity charge to KSEB for the streetlights alone. According to the officials, the LED lights have helped the civic body reduce the electricity bill by up to 20 lakh per month.

According to the residents’ associations, they are not in a position to contact the KSEB directly because the authorities refuse to accept complaints relating to public lighting coming directly from the residents.

“The KSEB authorities are making excuses and turning a blind eye to the complaint raised by the residents. When we contact them, they ask us to talk about it with the neighborhood councillor. They only fix the lights when the advisor intervenes. We pay taxes and this is not the right way to deal with residents’ grievances. You need a proper system. We have expressed strong protests on all platforms, but the problem remains the same,” said President MS Venugopal,

Federation of Resident Associations of Thiruvananthapuram (FRAT). He said unscientifically located electrical substations also posed a threat to residents.

Opposition parties on the council blamed civic authority apathy for the old LED lights. BJP adviser Karamana Ajith alleged that the civic body purchased LED lights from a higher paying public sector company. “The power supply that supplied the LED lights bought them from another company and sold them to the company at a higher price. We raised this issue during the recent council session which decided to launch a proper tender for the maintenance of street lamps,” said Karamana Ajith.

Call for expressions of interest

With the timely maintenance of street lights becoming a serious problem, the municipality decided to deploy an agency to ensure timely maintenance. The chairman of the standing works committee, DR Anil, said the civic body had already invited expressions of interest to find a suitable agency for the maintenance of the streetlights. He said the company will be responsible for operation and maintenance for a period of five years.

“The maintenance of the streetlights is not being done properly so we have decided to use an agency that is willing to take five years of operation and maintenance. We are trying to include a clause in the contract making the replacing extinguished streetlights within 48 hours,” Anil said.

A KSEB official said timely replacement of LED lights is not happening. “The company that took charge of the maintenance work carries out the replacement according to the total number of extinguished lights. They prefer to do it together when the number of replacements is around 50. Due to the pandemic, routine maintenance work was not taking place. We normally replace old lights with new ones and repair them later to avoid any delays,” said Anil, who is also the leader of the LDF parliamentary party. He said the new system would come into effect within two months.

In addition to this, the civic body also plans to install high-mast mini solar lights in selected locations in the capital.

Online complaints processing platform

As complaints mount, the civic body plans to set up an online platform for citizens to raise complaints about street lighting. The civic body is also planning to set up an LED-lit maintenance wing. In the current budget, it has earmarked Rs 2 lakh for the launch of an online platform and mobile application – Lightup.com – for citizens to raise complaints about street lighting.

A manager in the company’s IT wing said the new system could be developed in a month. “We have not yet obtained the administrative and technical sanctions for the project. Information Kerala Mission (IKM), the government agency providing online services for the society, has no such software. Therefore, we have to do it separately. Just launching the platform alone will not help and we need to keep it going,” the manager said.

Low consumption

The municipality and KSEB have jointly replaced approximately 39,000 luminaires with LED luminaires. The city has about 90,000 streetlights in total. The civic body pays around 130 lakh every month for streetlights alone. The LED lights have helped the company reduce their electricity bill by up to 120 lakh per month.