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03rd-Nov-2014

The nation was dark and in darkness

By Editorial Desk

The unprecedented blackout put the country in darkness for more than 10 hours on Saturday due to over dependence on Indian electricity supply and technical failure of the national grid that spelt humanitarian disasters. The whole country went into total blackout after the 400kv power transmission line between India and Bangladesh tripped which overshadowed the government's much-lauded achievement in the sector. The complete blackout downed the signaling systems of military forces and law enforcing agencies, disrupted mobile and internet connectivity, air trafficking signals at airports, suspended ATM services, and most dangerously limited services of life-supporting medical equipment. Importantly, the blackout made the masses feel insecure and helpless. They also underscored the meaning of electricity in today's life while the government exposed its ineptness and it was also a hard hit on the idea that Bangladesh was digitally prepared.
Electronic media had broadcasted that most parts of the country remained out of electricity until after midnight, which panicked the people. Besides disrupting health services, industrial productions suffered and business activities incurred losses equal to one-day of national productivity. Electricity supply was not available at Bangabhaban and Gono Bhaban. After dusk, no streetlights came on in cities and towns and households chores were done in candlelight creating much discomfort. The whole country had a ghostly look. Fear gripped the people as the blackout continued until after midnight even in the capital as nobody did not know about any exact information which allowed rumours to be spread out though additional security personnel were deployed.
As the blackout continued for long, many hospital authorities became worried about power supplies to the ICU, CCU and Emergency Wards, which were running with generators. Many patients who came with severe injuries were not treated properly due to the inadequate power supply from generators and ordeals embraced all as the water supply was also disrupted in major hospitals. Thousands of patients in several hundred hospitals and clinics across the country underwent similar ordeals. It was simply a human disaster because of a fault, which was technical in nature.
Many saw their mobile phones lose signal, internet users went offline, people could not get money from ATMs, and shopping centres counted huge losses during the nationwide power outage. Telephonic communication, fixed and wireless internet, and data services experienced huge disruptions due to the blackout. The digital outlets failed proving that their managers lacked efficiency.
The power outage triggering from Bangladesh-India power substation at Bheramara had a domino effect resulting in the worst blackout after 2007. This daily reported that the trouble began when a 400-kilovolt transmission line importing electricity from India tripped at 11:27am causing the national grid to collapse although the government installed a high-voltage substation at a cost of about Tk 1,000 crore to protect the grids of the two countries from such technical glitches. The sudden collapse of the interconnection created imbalance in the national grid that is linked to all power plants of the country. The sudden vacuum in the national grid caused disruption to production at Ashuganj Power Station and all other plants in the country. All of them stopped operation at once. The first attempt failed due to a 'mismatch in voltage' in the power transmission system. The authorities, in their second attempt, began power transmission to Chittagong and a few other regions around 6:30pm and steadily restored the power system by Sunday.
Later, the India-Bangladesh interconnection line was separated from the national grid for repairs. A senior official of the state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, which manages the electricity transmission line between the two countries, said there was absolutely no problem on their side and its executive director said the problem at the Bangladesh substation had caused a non-withdrawal of power from India. However, the Bangladesh side has not made their stand clear as yet.
The grid collapsed because ideally, generation should always be exactly the same as demand at any given point in time. Frequency slowdown is generally caused by shortfall in generation compared to demand. When frequency falls below the normal level, power stations trip, professionals say. On Saturday, when the technical glitch occurred at Bheramara, the supply from that source stopped, causing a generation shortfall. Instantly, because of the slowed down frequency, some other stations started tripping, bringing frequency further down and eventually leading to the countrywide blackout. Professionals have also said even if there is a 10% gap between generation and demand, the national grid may collapse.
As a result, when the Bheramara sub-station tripped, it took out 444MW power from the grid, which was roughly 10% of the demand of 4,500MW at that point. According to a report published in a local paper, Abdul Hasib Chowhdury, Associate Professor Electrical Engineering at Buet said: "Our grid system is very weak, especially in the West Zone. Moreover, the Dhaka-centred design of the national grid is also problematic."
Power Grid Company of Bangladesh stated that no power plants were damaged due to the countrywide grid failure. Surprisingly, all power units stopped power generation following the grid failure. If this is the real picture of power management efficiency of the government then one can logically raise doubts about the very future of  'Digital Bangladesh' — the dream of the administration that we will become developed very soon.
It was as if a retribution had occurred on the people of Bangladesh for their over dependence on Indian help in all aspects of life — be that power or politics — by passing a near full day in darkness.  It is unbelievable that a nation became totally dependent for power supply—the source of modern life, on a faulty system without any back up.
To stop speculations, the government should explain how such a nationwide failure of electricity took place. The Minister concerned has said the matter is being enquired into. A broad explanation should have been available when the dislocation was of so extensive in nature and Indian inter-grid supply system involved.