The devastation of Kerala floods has mobilized and moved people across India to do their bit to help God’s Own Country. Murugaraj Swaminathan, CEO of the Bengaluru-based company Uniservice, was no exception.
The company offers services management and maintenance in residential communities. And many people in the team wanted to do something to help Kerala. After a meeting, they decided to try and restore power in the houses of those who needed it most, the people who could not afford to pay an electrician or plumber.
They prepared a list of materials they would need and posted it on their Facebook page, looking for contributions. They received some responses, including the ones from from citizen groups Whitefield Rising, Nallurahalli Raising and an NGO, Nishabdha Seva, which helped them gather funds for about 10% of their supplies.
On the morning of August 20, Murugaraj, Venkatesan Selvaraj (Chief Technology Offer, Uniservice) & Vinoth Govindarajan (Uniservice, Chief Supply Chain Officer) set off for Kerala. “We had no plan as such. We didn’t know where we would go first, the materials we’d require, what would be required of us. But we knew we wanted to help,” Murugaraj tells TNM.
What happened in the next five days was something that is matter of great learning as well as pride for Murugaraj – they managed to light up over 500 homes in the flood-hit state.
Getting in touch with KSEB and mapping a plan
Using social media and with the help of some friends, the Uniservice team was able to get in touch with Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) officials when they reached north Paravoor. “But we could not do work there because the flood water was still there in the homes and the cleaning was going on. The KSEB was quite helpful and even gave us a jeep to go around the place,” Murugaraj narrates.
After spending about seven hours there, the team came to Thrissur, where Prasath Mathew, Deputy Chief Engineer with KSEB, Electrical Circle, Thrissur, had arranged accommodation for them. They decided to work in Thrissur the next day. “My team in Bengaluru was ready. They bought the supplies like switches, MCB etc. and reached Thrissur on Tuesday (August 21) morning.
With the KSEB on board, things started moving faster. In the next three days, they had five vehicles – two cars of their own and three jeeps provided by the KSEB. They split up into teams, with the KSEB also providing some of their men, and went to five villages - Ramavarmapuram, Vengidangu, Muthuvara, Ollur and Chalakudy.
First light at Ramavarmapuram village
“We were able to restore power in 160 houses on the first day. By Wednesday, word had spread about what we were doing and we were getting calls and messages from people. KSEB officials in the areas went and even other places wanted to work with us,” Murugaraj narrates.
The KSEB was very pleased with their work, and asked them to submit a report as well. Murugaraj says that with the report’s help, the KSEB hoped to popularise the methods they were using and teach it to volunteers and people who were helping them to restore power.
On Wednesday, Uniservice and KSEB teams managed to restore power in about 400 houses.
“On our way to these places, we were also visiting camps and doing pest control (fogging, putting snake repellents, etc.) under the supervision of panchayat presidents. And on day four, our team split into two; we left Thrissur and travelled all the way to North Paravur. We helped a government primary school near Athani, checked and advised SNIMS Hospital about the condition of genset usage and lit up around 60 houses around North Paravoor and Kodungalur,” Murugaraj shares.
‘People cried when they saw us’
Uniservice wanted to reach the poorest people, who were also the most affected by the flooding. “There were times when we told the people whose houses we went to that we will try and restore their electricity for no cost, they broke down,” Muruganth says. “Many had nothing but a towel to cover themselves. Their clothes, children’s books, belongings, all of it had been washed away.”
The team also went to Chalakudy to electrify an orphanage which had been affected by the floods. “It was not easy to reach there but we went anyway and only for them. The 80 kids were all in relief camps. The people who called us kept saying that they want to come back but they couldn’t because there was no power,” he recalls.
There were also times when the team had to pacify and convince people whose houses could not be electrified like their neighbours’. “Their houses were still wet or the flood water had to be cleaned out. But to explain to them that their house’s wiring was fine, there was nothing wrong except that we’d have to wait keeping their safety in mind, was somewhat challenging. But they did understand eventually,” Murugaraj says.
The Uniservice team left on Friday night to return to Kerala, having put in 16-17 hours each day.
Through the exhaustion, Murugaraj says that what makes him proud is that they were able to give the most disadvantaged people some home at the right time. “My motive was not to bring light back to every house on the street… but having light in the neighbourhood, even in 14 out of 40 houses makes a difference. In an emergency, they won’t have to run to a nearby town now,” he says.
Student volunteers also helped
When asked if they will return to Kerala to help further, Murugaraj says it depends on whether there is a requirement. “We have shown our methods to KSEB and they were also training some polytechnic and engineering student volunteers to help out. If they take over, then there is no need for us to go,” he says.
Biju Viswam, a civil engineer, Hydro projects, KSEB tells TNM that they did train 100 students from various engineering colleges on August 22. And the next two days, they were also helping the Uniservice team in doing safety checks, pest control and electrifying homes where possible. “Our mission was to give restore as many connections as we could, especially for poor people, before the festival. We were very happy with Uniservice’s work,” he says.