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27-year-old meter reader electrocuted in Samdrup Jongkhar; BPC sends investigation team

… parents asked for detailed report on the cause of the death, death benefits

More than two weeks ago on June 20, two men that went to fix a displaced electric pole in Phuntshothang in Samdrup Jongkhar disrupted by a landslide, two men that were electrocuted, one died at the spot while the other survived.

It has been more than two weeks but the grieving family said that they didn’t get a clear report on how he died from the concerned authorities. The deceased’s family is grieving their loss at the moment.

On losing his first born son, the deceased’s father said, “We are feeling helpless at the moment, coming from a humble background, we don’t know who is accountable for the loss.”

The deceased is survived by his aging parents and two younger siblings. The deceased’s family is from Kanglung, and he is the sole income earner of the household.

The father said that he received the news on a phone call from the police. But due to horrible road conditions they were unable to go and collect the body. “But we requested the police to send a clear report on his death.”

The deceased’s co-workers handed over the body. “But we didn’t get any report on how he died. We only heard them verbally saying that he was electrocuted,” said the deceased’s father.

The family said that even before they asked about his entitlements, the Samdrupcholing Manager who came to handover the body told them that the deceased was a contract employee. “He said that the deceased may or may not be entitled for any benefits from the company,” said the family.

Four days later, the bereaved family received Nu 40,000 as condolence money (Semso). It was collected among the co-workers.

The family was also not given clear information if the deceased is entitled for line-of-duty death benefits from the company. “We wish that BPC management could tell us clearly whether there is a compensation system as he died working for them,” he added.

The maternal uncle of the deceased claimed that he was a meter reader. “We heard that he died on the electric pole he was repairing.”

The family doesn’t understand how a meter reader is qualified to do a lineman’s work. “His manager must have assigned the work. There is no way a lower rung holder would go out on his own to carry out such a technical work,” said the uncle.

The grieving family approached BPC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) hoping that the CEO would render some support. They also reached out to the police, Dzongkhag officials and the BPC’s Samdrup Jongkhar manager requesting for clear information.

The uncle said that they posted the original copy of the application letter addressed to the CEO and also e-mailed the CEO on June 29.

The family said that the deceased worked for BPC on a contract agreement for the last three years. “But it looks like that there are no death benefits for the contract employees as per their contract clause,” said the uncle.

The father said, “We are waiting for the reply. If we don’t get any reply, we don’t know what we should do next.”

The family said, “Although if there’s no death benefit as per the contract clause, they need to take accountability since he died on BPCโ€™s duty.”

“Because we come from a humble background, and the deceased’s parents are inarticulate, we might never know what really happened on that tragic day,” added the uncle.

Since the deceased was the sole income earner for the family, the uncle said, “We hope that the CEO will look into the matter seriously and support the family.”

“The cause for my son’s death needs thorough investigation, otherwise we would be mentally traumatized,” said the father.

BPC’s General Manager (GM) claimed that their HR team acknowledged the email. They formed a team to investigate the case. “Once they finish the investigation, we will get back to the family,” said the GM.

What happened on June 20, 2022?

The incessant rain played havoc for a few days resulting in swollen rivers, landslides, and bad road conditions. Two power poles were washed away by the landslide at around 8 am.

Both the incoming and outgoing feeder were washed away by the landslide, but the team decided to work on restoring the outgoing electric line first.

By 9:30 am the BPC staff gathered to cater the electricity needs of the nearby gewogs and chiwogs like Phuntshothang, Pemathang and Metothang.

There were 10 BPC staff consisting linemen, technicians, a driver, meter readers and the manager, gathered to erect the fallen electric poles at the outgoing feeder between Shermothang and Phuntshothang.

A BPC worker said, “There were only three employees for the job but because of human resource shortage we decided to do the work together.”

On that day of restoration work, it drizzled until afternoon. Two staff, including lineman and a  meter reader (deceased) climbed the pole.

BPC’s regular meter reader said that eight of them were on the ground securing the electric pole while two of them carried out the job on the pole.

The lineman successfully installed two conductors but as the meter reader tried inserting the last one, he was suddenly electrocuted.

The tragic incident happened around 3:30 pm. The meter reader was immediately brought down.

The co-workers said that the deceased was still alive when they brought him down from the electric pole. “But his survival rate seemed negligible,” added a co-worker.

Co-workers claimed that his hand was burnt slightly. The deceased wore double gloves; air current gloves and working gloves. “The deceased’s gloves were burnt and the working gloves are of poor quality,” a co-worker said.

Due to bad road conditions, the doctors arrived at the spot in less than 30 minutes followed by the police.

Moreover, the ambulance driver was on leave that day. The co-workers said that they lost some time as they had to pick up the doctor from Martshala junction.

“We lost some time, otherwise we could have rushed him to the hospital a bit earlier,” said a co-worker.

The victim was pronounced dead. “But we don’t know whether he passed away on the way to the hospital or on reaching the hospital.”

The co-workers emphasized how surprised they were. They are not sure how the current passed through the line as they claimed that the conductor at the source was on the ground and dead.

The co-workers said, “We are shocked how the deceased got electrocuted.”

One shared that the local residents suspected foul play. “They think that someone who didn’t like the deceased, turned on the current.”

“We are scared of such life-threatening incidents at work, but we have to cater to the electric needs of the people,” said a BPC worker.

The BPC worker claimed that the digital system in the control room has an accurate record of the time when the power was turned on or off. “There’s no foul play involved,” said the BPC employee.

They agreed that the deceased’s actual job was to read current meters  and go for bill collection.

What does the BPC CEO Sonam Tobjey say?

The deceased was working as a Village Electrical Entrepreneur and Electrical Technician ( VEEET) under Samdrup Choling. The VEEET is engaged on a work contract basis with BPC.

“He is not a BPC employee,” said the CEO.

The Samrang Feeder, DP structure was completely washed away by a landslide near Selmothang sub-station and was restoring the system. The team had completed the stringing of two phases (Y and B) and left with R Phase for completion. While the victim was stringing the R Phase conductor and fitting it into the disc insulator on the pole, all of a sudden he was electrocuted from nowhere (without a source).

He said, “Another colleague was also on the pole but nothing happened to him.”

The source was completely isolated from DP near to Koila sub-station. “BPC has already fielded an investigating team and the report will determine the root cause which will be submitted to the Bhutan Electricity Authority,” said the CEO.

BPC has made the arrangement to deliver the deceased to his parentโ€™s home town in Kanglung. He said that BPC has also taken care of the funeral expenses and gave some amount for performing his last rituals (Gewa).  

“The welfare and other benefits are available only to BPC employees,” added the CEO.

The CEO also said that, as per the terms of his engagement with BPC, he is supposed to take out a life insurance policy which he did but unfortunately it has been found that he discontinued paying the premium.

The CEO said, “The medical report is already given to his parents. We are investigating the cause of the accident and based on findings, we will inform his parents.”

He claimed that BPC has taken care of his funeral rites and provided some money for conducting the rituals. BPC is arranging Semso which will be given to his parents within this week. A safety team from headquarter is currently investigating the case. “We will see who is accountable for the incident and take action accordingly,” said the CEO

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