Kashmir's Unending Power Woes

Where lies the problem and where the solution

Bashirul Ahsan
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 14 2018 9:25PM | Updated Date: Nov 14 2018 9:25PM
Kashmir's Unending Power WoesRepresentational Pic

Come October-end, the State Administration shifts to Jammu leaving behind the Valley in darkness. Suddenly, you observe power generation has drastically gone down, as if till its move to winter capital the civil secretariat was generating electricity. This year, the situation has worsened too soon. Within days of Chief Secretary assuring people of a change in power scarcity situation this winter, the Valley plunged into complete darkness following a 2-inch deep snowfall. This happened when the top bureaucrat and his comrades in administration had barely reached their warm winter houses in Jammu, 300 kms south of Srinagar. The power supply has been restored but with frequent, long and agonizing cuts, besides several hours’ daily scheduled curtailment. 

Octogenarian Ghulam Mohammad Bhat from uptown Sonawar is incensed with the early dismal winter power scenario. From the time of his childhood, Bhat recalls, despite tall official claims of ending power scarcity ‘soon’, he has not seen “a winter when power supply had improved over the previous year”. Born in 1931 on a day when Maharaja Hari Singh was blessed with his only son, Karan Singh, Bhat believes the successive governments in Kashmir have miserably failed in building on the edifice of power generation the Dogra Government had laid more than a century ago. The governments, he believes, have only created “elite pockets” whose inhabitants do not face ‘powerlessness’.  

Long, dark wintery nights haunting people in Kashmir including Srinagar, its capital of 5000 years, is an old story. Most households in the city are now metered but that has changed nothing. The promised uninterrupted power supply to these areas remains an illusion. A south city resident swore by God that ever since digital meters were installed in his colony the power situation has worsened. The situation is agonizing particularly for honest consumers who have either volunteered or readily agreed to have digital meters installed in their houses. Power theft by some consumers may be one of the reasons for load shedding but then not checking the menace reflects badly on the Government itself. One wonders if it is really serious in curbing this nuisance, for one of the former Chief Engineers of PDD lost his post for seizing heaters from a city area and destroying them in full public and media view.   

Kashmir, it may be recalled, was only second place in the subcontinent, after the State of Mysore, to have a hydropower house as early as in the first decade of 20th century. In 1908, the 4x1000 kva Mohura Power House was commissioned, heralding a new hope in the Valley. The power house lit up ‘thousands of houses in Kashmir besides a small number of mini industrial units like huskers, flour and oil grinders, band saws, and silk reeling, weaving and spinning units’. Sadly, 110 years later, Jammu & Kashmir continues to be a power starved state notwithstanding its huge identified hydropower potential of which only 16% has been exploited so far. 

Over the decades, the Valleyites have learnt to live with false promises and tall claims of the Government about next winter and next year going to be brighter and J&K turning power-surplus state in coming five to ten years. Generations of youngsters have grown old or traveled into the hereafter in the hope of this dream coming true. If there was an archive of Government propaganda, one would see how on commissioning of each new power project since the start of Ganderbal-I, Governments have given the tidings of ending power shortage. Kashmir, nevertheless, continues to forge ahead in darkness, its power resources being consumed by others, thanks to the monster that NHPC has turned out to be.

When it comes to the question of Jammu & Kashmir sustaining itself as an independent country if an option was on the table, its hydropower potential is always cited as one of the important pluses suggesting that the state can supply electricity to whole of south Asia. In real terms, however, the State has not been able to ‘empower’ itself. Not to speak of prioritizing power generation, for the past 71 years we have not been able to even correctly assess our hydropower potential. In 1996, people were told that the State had an identified hydel potential of 10,000 MW [Greater Kashmir, 25 July 1996]. Then, without God Almighty bestowing us any new water source, the figure was raised to few thousand megawatts more. In January 2018, the estimated potential was declared 20,000 MW, of which “16,475 MW have been identified”. Now, ‘a team of researchers’ from University of Kashmir has come forward with an ‘independent assessment’ raising the State’s hydropower potential to over 25,000 MW. This is the same university, and perhaps the same team of researchers, that has been frightening us for the past many years with ‘steady depletion’ of our glaciers and shrinking water sources. Were the experts in the Government so incompetent to not make a correct assessment with all available tools or have our water sources actually increased? The point to emphasize here is that we are not able to even assess our resources, let alone exploit them to the fullest. 

Kashmir supplying power to south Asia is loud thinking. The reality on the ground is that for 8 out of the 12 months of a year, the State imports power. To meet its 842 MW load consumption Kashmir, as on date, imports 360 MW power from Northern Grid. The story for the summer months is not much different [Ziraat Times, 5 November 2018]. The first and the foremost reason for Jammu & Kashmir to be a power deficient state is bartering away of its vital interests. All local political parties in power have facilitated robbing the State of its political power and economic wealth. After reducing the State’s special position to a brittle skeleton, the focus was shifted to the ruination of its economic strength. Handing over the State’s most vital resource –water- to NHPC is the biggest crime against the people of Jammu & Kashmir they have committed after facilitating dilution of its constitutional special status. The ‘vision’ these politicians have about Kashmir was on full display recently when their newly launched comrade spelt out his priority for malls over wetlands. 

Jammu & Kashmir is a goose that lays golden eggs for the NHPC. Of the 20 power stations it operates in India with a total installed capacity of 5171.2 MW, including 3721.96 MW from 8 power stations in Jammu & Kashmir alone. In plain terms, 72% of the hydropower produced by NHPC and consumed in different states of India generates in Jammu & Kashmir. In return, the NHPC gives to Jammu & Kashmir free a mere 12% (less than it gives to neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh) power generated in the State. For rest of its requirement, the State has to buy from the NHPC power generated from its own rivers. The Corporation is working on 7 other hydropower projects (3 are said to have been commissioned) under joint venture in Madya Pradesh, Manipur, Nepal and Jammu & Kashmir, with a total capacity of 3764 MW. These include 3 power houses - 1000 MW Pakuldul, 624 MW Kiru and 540 MW Kawar - with a total generating capacity of 2164 MW (57.49%) in Jammu & Kashmir only. Is it difficult to hazard a guess why the NHPC is not returning to the State the Salal and Uri projects, irrespective of an agreement to this effect, and why it is eager to clinch more such projects from the State? From Salal alone, the Corporation has since earned many times more than its investment. The project should have been returned to the State long back.

When some years back a minister in the State Cabinet agitated this issue and demanded return of the Salal project, the copy of the agreement and relevant file were reported to have gone missing from the civil secretariat. In 2012, the State Government informed the Legislative Assembly that Jammu & Kashmir has suffered losses to the tune of Rs. 2350.85 crore which it was examining to recover from the NHPC. It is not for nothing that NHPC has earned in Kashmir the sobriquet of ‘East India Company‘.

The Government of India’s refusal to finance major hydel power projects in the state sector in Jammu & Kashmir and the State Government’s willful failure to build the run-of-the-river mini hydel power houses on its rivers and major streams is a double whammy for the State and its people. Ghulam Mohammad Shah as Power Minister of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, had visited China to study the mini hydel power houses for building a strong power generation system back home. On his return, the Government had described mini hydel power houses as an answer to the State’s chronic power crisis. Unfortunately, the matter rests there. 

Jammu & Kashmir will have to assert its water rights, get back Salal and Uri and renegotiate with NHPC its share of free power from the J&K based power stations, and royalty on water usage. It also needs to prioritize building of mini hydel projects – 2-4 under each Five Year Plan- without looking for illusive Central Government investment. To begin with, it could possibly dispense with MLA local area development fund scheme and channelize this huge money for generating power through small hydel projects.

 

 

bashirulahsan@yahoo.com

 

 

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