Heart of Darkness: Why Kashmiris link power woes to India-Pakistan dispute

By Sheikh Qayoom

Srinagar : Electric power woes in winter have become endemic in Jammu and Kashmir and, for the moment, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. People of the state have become cynical enough to say that the problem would be solved only after India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue.

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Many in the state trace the problem to the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, though new power projects have not kept pace with demand.

The daily requirement – metered and unmetered – is around 1,600 MW against a supply of a 1,200 MW. There’s also the question of rampant pilferage by domestic consumers.

“The state gets 12 percent of the power generated from National Hydel Power Corporation of India (NHPC) projects as royalty. The rest is to be purchased. The biggest buyer of electric power from the NHPC is J&K, according to a retired chief engineer of the Power Development Department who did not want to be named.

The previous prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had announced an economic package for the state that included Rs.1,850 crore for the NHPC to build power projects in Jammu and Kashmir. About Rs.750 crore was given to the power department to build infrastructure to buy power from the NHPC.

“In layman’s terms, this means NHPC was paid to generate power from J&K so that the same is sold to J&K,” the chief engineer told IANS.

Yet, the shortages continued.

“It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 450 megawatt second stage of Baglihar power project, a curtailment schedule was announced by the local electric department”, said Javaid Ahmad, 45, a businessman here.

The NHPC owns five hydro projects in Kashmir. These are the Salal, Uri, Dulhasti, Nimmo Bazgo and Chutak projects. The output during winter falls sharply because of the low water levels.

The root cause of the problem, many say, is the treaty signed with the neighbouring country in 1960. Under the treaty, no water storage dam can be built on any of the three major rivers of the state – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.

“We can build only run-of-the-river power projects on these rivers. This wastes thousands of megawatts of electric power potential of J&K which could be tapped through building of dams,” says an expert, who talked on condition of anonymity.

He said the hydropower potential of the state would be around 20,000 MW.

“There is no compensation for Kashmiris in the Indus Water Treaty. That is why we say Kashmir’s electric power woes would only be solved after the Kashmir problem is resolved,” he added.

The locals are, expectedly, angry.

“There is darkness all around in the evenings as electric supply is switched off without notice. We have a daily scheduled curtailment of eight hours as per the electric department, but we are supplied electricity not even for six hours,” said Abdul Majid, 66, a resident of rural Ganderbal district.

The authorities say widespread pilferage and low payments also add to the woes.

“The total daily supply is 1,200 MW, out of which we import nearly 80 percent from outside, costing the state Rs.10 crore daily,” a senior engineer of the electricity department told IANS, unwilling to share his name.

He said on an average a family in the Valley pays just Rs.330 per month while using power worth Rs.5,000.

“This cannot be checked through regulation. You can’t have a lineman for every family. People have to discipline themselves to ensure that they consume only as much as they pay for,” the engineer said.

Even in areas in the Valley where meters have been installed and where consumers are required to pay as per the actual consumption, shortages continue.

“Normally, we should only have a daily curtailment of three hours. But just on Friday there was no electricity in our area for eight hours. This has been the routine for more than a month now,” said a resident of Srinagar’s Rajbagh residential area.

For Jammu and Kashmir residents, the winter of discontent seems to be unending.