Ever wondered why Bangalore has several firsts to its credit? Be it industrialisation, automation, machine-tools, aviation, aerospace-research, advanced studies, information technology, the city has been the Mecca for trying out developmental projects. It sure speaks of the progressive nature of its people and their innovative spirit. In a series of articles, Citizen Matters will try to cover the various innovations that the city has pioneered through recent history.
Ask the citizens of Bangalore to name the city’s biggest problem and they are sure to say either traffic and/or power cuts. They will surely be taken aback to discover that Bangalore was the first city in Asia to be electrified!
Thanks to the Maharajas of Mysore for being visionaries and putting Mysore state in the forefront of the industrialisation era which was soon to envelop the whole of India. It was their initiative to harness the state’s own electricity by setting up the continent’s first hydel power station at the foot of the Shivanasamudra falls near Kollegal in the present Chamarajanagar district.
The city owes much to its proximity to the erstwhile Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), a.k.a Robertsonpet (named after a British officer in the mines), and the ensuing gold rush which prompted the establishment of power projects in Bangalore.
The Cauvery Power Scheme was initiated in 1900 under K Seshadri Iyer, the then Diwan of Mysore. In 1894, Edmund Carrington, an electric engineer applied for concessions to tap the water power at Shivanasamudra. He, along with Holmes from Madras and Colonel Henderson, a British resident in Mysore who took keen interest in the scheme, recognised that long distance transmission of power might be possible.
As per The Karnataka State Gazette, Mandya District, the Mysore Government decided to investigate the practicality of generating power at Shivanasamudram falls site and enlisted the services of Colonel Campbell, the Chief Engineer at Madras for the same with the cooperation of the Madras Government. The Chief Engineer took a very favourable view of the potential of the project. In June 1899, the Deputy Chief Engineer of Mysore, after studying the details of the power installation at the Niagara Falls (in North America), was convinced of the idea of working the machinery at the Kolar Gold Fields with the electricity generated by the Cauvery falls, and the scheme received the hearty support of Seshadri Iyer and Colonel Campbell. M/S John Taylor & Sons of London, who had the general control on KGF also supported the scheme. The government decided to utilise the head of the falls for hydro-electric power and its transmission for the service of industrial undertaking in the state of Mysore, inclusive of KGF, in 1899.
In embarking upon this great undertaking, the government was influenced by the consideration that the supply of cheap motive power of its kind and on the scale proposed, was likely to foster industrial enterprises throughout the state and, thus, indirectly increase the wealth and general prosperity of the country. The Deputy Chief Engineer was deputed to Europe and America to examine the projects in consultation with the experts there. The Mysore government acquired from the government of Madras the right to utilise the whole of the water power at the head of the falls. The sanction of the government of India for various details such as the concession from the government of Madras, the agreement with M/S John Taylor & Sons and the industrial miners, the contract with the General Electric Company of USA and M/S Escher Wyss & Co, Zurich was received in March 1900. In June 1900 the agreement with M/S John Taylor & Sons was signed. Arrangements were made with the General Electric Company of New York for the electric plant and M/S Escher Wyss & Co for hydraulic plant, the former for taking the entire responsibility for installing the plant and working at the spot for period of one year. The works were completed by 1902 and on 30th June of the same year, the generated power (30000 volts) was transmitted to KGF.
The power developed by the first installation was 6000 HP, but owing to the increased demand at the gold fields, Bangalore and Mysore for both power and light, the generating station was extended by the second installation in 1903.
Trivia: When you stroll by on MG Road next time, do try to spot the power transmission unit which is opposite Raheja Towers – it still wears the colonial architecture look. Also, the East Parade Church right next to it was the first building to get electricity from this unit.