Why ‘Purani Dilli Ke Purane Wires’ are a Perfect Recipe for Fire

Known for its culture and lip-smacking food, Old Delhi is also a nightmare for firefighters.

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Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

In the wake of the fire at a Karol Bagh hotel that left 17 inmates dead, The Quint decided to walk the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, to find how prepared the commercial hub is for a fire emergency.

Tangled old wires bunched together in a heap barely six feet high above the ground – if you’re familiar with Old Delhi, you would have definitely crossed paths with these wires. For 16-year-old Ishaan Sharma, they signify nostalgia. “This is a typical Old Delhi look. You will see this across Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and certain other locations here. I have grown up seeing these,” he said.

Most consider the web of cables an eyesore, but for those living and working in Old Delhi markets, it could be deadly.

A stack of electricity wires hang dangerously close to the balcony of a residence in Old Delhi. 
A stack of electricity wires hang dangerously close to the balcony of a residence in Old Delhi. 
(Photo: The Quint)
“There have been 2-3 instances of fire in this market. Even fire brigade officials were hassled. They didn’t know where to bring in the pipe (hose) from. It wouldn’t take long for the fire to spread from one shop to another in this area.”
Rakesh Jindal, Shopkeeper  
“During the monsoon, when we take passengers through the narrow bylanes, we have to be extremely careful that the wires don’t touch us.”
Name Singh, Cycle Rickshaw Owner

The web of cables includes lines belonging to telephone operators, power distribution companies and local cable connections. To help us understand how the linesmen distinguish their cables from that of others, 58-year-old Ajay Kumar Jain, who runs a local cable shop, pointed to a wire.

“The wire line that you see up there in front of you is ours. It’s right at the top. We tie our wires in a way that monkeys don’t jump on them and also tie them up high so that our competitors can’t reach them even if they get a ladder. But even then, people tie their wires to ours.”
Ajay Kumar Jain, Local Cable Shop Owner
Wires dangling over a narrow lane in Old Delhi. 
Wires dangling over a narrow lane in Old Delhi. 
(Photo: The Quint)

He also explained that all the cables look slightly different. While an MTNL telephone line uses optical fibre cables, BSNL uses a thick yellow wire. BSES electrical cables are thick and encased, and local cable lines are thin and sling close to walls of buildings.

One short circuit in a tangled bunch of wires can affect every single line in the bunch.

Residents living in old buildings along the transmitters connected to the cables are dangerously impacted. Shivani, a homemaker who lives near the Jama Masjid area, can never send her children out on the balcony without supervision as her home is right next to a transmitter.

“In the monsoons, we avoid standing on the balcony and ask even our kids to do the same. Sometimes, there are short circuits right next to our balcony and the iron railing conducts the electricity, giving shocks to anyone who touches it.”
Shivani, Resident  

16-year-old Ruchi Nigam, Shivani’s neighbour, had a similar experience. “Our taps started conducting electricity. Initially, it started with one room but soon spread to the whole house. While climbing the stairs, even if we touched the walls, we used to receive a shock. This continued for 2-3 days,” she said.

In 2007, power distribution company BSES had proposed to place their cables underground. They had also submitted a proposal on the same to the state government. Eight years later, in 2015, the central government allotted Rs 280 crore to execute the project. The change on the ground, however, is just a cosmetic touch up so far.

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