Monday, March 12, 2012

High tension in Indian cities doesn't matter as it does in US cities?

By high tension in cities, I am not referring to the commonly held belief that life in cities is stressful and that it is all peace and harmony in the rural landscape.  "High tension" as in high voltage transmission lines.

As we drove, I heard "X" say "this is high tension road." I thought I misheard--after all, the traffic was flowing really well, and the road was relatively ok.

I knew it couldn't be my faulty ear either, given that the passenger seat is to the driver's left.  So, when I asked for clarification, "X" said, "this is called high tension road."  Turns out that is the name of the road, because of the transmission lines there.

In the US, people freak out about being anywhere near high voltage transmission lines.  A few years ago, there was all that worry over the hyped up electromagnetic radiation.  The risk calculations in the US are very, very different from how risk is assessed in India by individuals and society as a whole.  

Driving under high tension cables, or living right by a distribution transformer, is, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary in India.  A few weeks ago, the directions "S" gave me included the location of a transformer as a landmark.

In Mumbai, my uncle led me on a short hike up the hill by their home in a suburb.  It was absolutely pretty, and I imagine that soon with all the spring blossoms the hill will come alive with greenery and colors.

In between all that are high tension cables, which run right by the housing development too.

Risks of different types are part of the daily life here in India.  When I climbed up the fort at Aurangabad, I was worried about safety aspects in so many contexts that it will be a lengthy post all by itself.  In the US, not one person would have been allowed past the outer walls of the fort because of the potential legal liabilities when things go wrong, for which there is immense scope.

Risk minimization is a reflection of affluence in a country, and by that measure India has a long, long way to go.  In a way, the controversy over the Kudankulam nuclear power plant is also nothing but a discussion over risk minimization.  The protesters seem to be using a US-type standard in a country where most activities are not governed by US-type safety standards.

The cab driver in Nagercoil put it this way: "the tsunami killed thousands and destroyed many homes, sir.  Abdul Kalam says that Kudankulam going wrong will be the tsunami kind of a very rare event.  But, think about the electricity this will generate, sir.  We have ten hours of power cut now every day."

The tension the cab driver had while offering his strong opinions seemed to be a lot more than the tension in the high voltage cables!

Later, as the full moon came up on the Holi evening, I forgot all about tensions of every possible kind!

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