1. This is an appeal by the Superintendent and Remembrancer of Legal Affairs, Bengal, on behalf of the Provincial Government against an order of acquittal passed by a Magistrate of the first class, Hooghly, in respect of certain alleged contraventions of the Indian Electricity Rules. On the complaint of the Electricity Inspector, Bengal, there were prosecuted (1) The East India Electric and Traction Co. Ltd. (2) Messrs. Narsing Sahay Madan Gopal, Managing Agents of the above, (3) Mr. N.C. Bhattacharjya, Managing Director of the above and (4) Mr. S.N. Banerji, Electrical Engineer.
2. The complaint relates to the service line connections from a pole in B. Dey Road, Hooghly, to the premises of Messrs. A. Mitra & Co. who are the consumers. The accused company is the licensee under the Indian Electricity Act.
3. The matter may be divided into three partner (1) The line on the pole itself to the ground, (2) the underground line which runs under B. Dey Road and part of the premises of Messrs. A. Mitra & Co. and (3) the line and connections in the meter room of the consumers.
4. As regards (1) the line on the pole, the complaint was that the metal covering did not comely with Rule 60 (1)(c) of the Indian Electricity Rules as there were certain holes in it. As regards (2), the underground cable, it was contended by the prosecution that Rule 60 (1)(c) applies to such a cable and as the cable had no metal covering there had been a contravention of the rule. As regards (3), the connection inside the room there was a complaint of a breach of Rule 60 (1)(c) for a lack of a metal covering and also of Rule 39 in respect of other matters which it is not necessary to set out.
5. The trial Court found that there had been no contravention of the rules and acquitted the accused. The Government of Bengal has accordingly appealed.
6. The real bone of contention here is the interpretation of Rule 60 (1)(c) and the question whether it has any application to underground cables. We will therefore deal with item (2) in the first place. In our opinion, it is clear that Rules 60 (1)(c) was not intended to apply to an underground service line cable. The rule applicable to a service line 'placed by a licensee on the premises of the consumer which is underground or which is accessible without the aid of a ladder or other special appliance' is Rule 39 and the requirement there is that it should be in-sulated and protected as directed in the rule, but there is no specific requirement that there shall be any metal covering. Rule 60 (1)(c) applies to a supply of medium or high pressure and requires that.
every conductor, unless accessible only to an authorised person, shall be as far as is practicable, completely enclosed in a mechanically strong metal casing or metallic covering, securely fastened throughout or fixed in such other manner as may be approved in writing by an Inspector.
The licensee's responsibility in this matter is covered by Rule 60 (2). He is forbidden to supply energy at medium or high pressure without first giving notice to an Inspector and shall not supply 'until he or the Inspector is satisfied that the provisions of Sub-Rule (1) are observed.'
7. We may incidentally note the curious wording in the rule. Apparently, in the present case it could be contended that the licensee was satisfied that the provisions of Sub-Rule (1) had been observed, (assuming that they are applicable), whereas the Inspector was not, and on the literal wording of the rule even then apparently there would be no contravention. The matter really turns on the interpretation to be given to the word 'accessible.' The argument here is that even though the cable was laid in two to three feet in earth nevertheless a trench could be dug and the cable could be got at. On this interpretation, there is practically nothing on earth which is strictly speaking inaccessible. There may be some limit of penetration down from the surface of earth or of ascent in height on the highest mountain. Subject to this limitation, in a sense, everything in the world is accessible provided sufficient means are employed to reach it. This appears to us to be an impossible interpretation of the word as used in the rule. We have some indication, of the meaning of the word 'accessible' in the rules from its use in Rule 39 and Rule 41 where mention is made of conductors which are 'accessible without the aid of a ladder or other special appliance.' We consider that a cable which is only accessible by a considerable amount of digging is not accessible within the meaning of Rule 60 (1)(c). If there was an intention that underground service lines were required to be covered by a metallic covering, the obvious place to find it would be Rule 39 itself, which deals specifically with such lines and lays down a number of requirements. But it would be very strange drafting to lay down the requirements specifically about service lines in Rule 39 and omit this most important one and then include it in Rule 60 (1)(c), leaving the matter very ambiguous according to the interpretation to be given to the word 'accessible.'
8. It was argued that the line under B. Dey Road would be accessible to municipal or other workers who might be digging up that road for purposes connected with drainage or water works. This appears to be a somewhat far-fetched contention and such protection as is required in that matter from a practical point of view appears to be provided by Section 15 of the Act which requires mutual notice on the part of the authorities placing or altering electric cables or water mains or sewer mains under public streets.
9. The appeal so far as it relates to this item fails.
10. We may next deal with item (3) relating to the cable and connections in the meter room. The simple answer to the prosecution on this matter appears to us to be that real responsibility is not that of the licensee but of the consumer. The whole matter relates to a meter room which has a warning notice, and there is provision by the consumer for a man to be in charge of it. The licensee having placed the apparatus in such a room with the intention that it shall be only accessible to competent and authorised persons and having made his arrangements accordingly, cannot be held responsible if the consumer does not follow the rules and allows miscellaneous persons to have access to the meter room. We may refer here to Rule 60 (4). If the licensee became aware that the consumer was in the habit of having, shall we say, tea parties in the meter room and it could be shown that he had this knowledge that the provisions of Sub-rule (1) were not being observed in this way or any other similar way, then he might be made liable under the provisions of that sub-rule. There is nothing in the evidence' in this case to suggest that any responsibility of this nature had arisen on the part of the licensee. The only suggestion, in fact, in the case that there had been any unauthorised accessibility was that from the sarkar of the Inspector and the Inspector himself after due notice had been allowed to visit the meter room. The appeal on this point also fails.
11. As regards item (1), the line on the pole, it appears that the casing does not form a complete compliance with the requirements of Rule 60 (1)(c) and it also is not disputed that Rule 60 (1)(c) applies to this and that the licensee has a responsibility in view of Sub-rule (2) of Rule 60. On the other hand, it seems that when the Inspector drew the attention of the licensee to the fact that there were certain holes in the casing, some attempt to plug them by means of wood and pitch was made and no further action was taken until the present prosecution arose, evidently mainly out of the dispute as to the casing on the underground cable.
12. In the circumstances, we have suggested to the learned advocate for the company that they should remedy the defects promptly and he has undertaken to have this done. It is proposed that two pieces of half pipes will be clamped over the existing pipes to cover with metal thereby all access to the holes and hence to the conductor.
13. We, therefore, postpone final orders in this matter until Friday 19-12-1947. Let a copy of this order be sent to the office of the Electrical Adviser and Chief Electrical Inspector, Bengal, 1 Harish Mukherjee Road, Calcutta, who is asked to arrange for an Inspector to see the work after its completion and instruct the learned Deputy Legal Remembrancer. The Company will give notice to the Electrical Adviser and Chief Electrical Inspector, Bengal, of the completion of the work so that inspection may be arranged.