Power woes

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As the Valley is inching towards winter, the power problems are making a steady return to haunt the people here. Hours-long daily power-cuts in the metered areas of the city are back, and the situation in non-metered areas besides in the countryside is obviously much worse. And indeed if the current discharge in various rivers of the state is taken as indicator, then the situation in coming days is only going to worsen further.

We the people of Jammu and Kashmir have, for decades been told that the state has enormous water resources, which, if harnessed for generating electricity, can make it one of the richest places in the entire subcontinent. However, its potential to generate more than 20000 MWs of hydroelectricity notwithstanding, power shortage has always remained a perennial problem here. Blame it on the jaundiced vision of the successive governments in New Delhi and Srinagar, as well as due to the lethargy of the executing agencies vested with the construction of power projects in the state, this vital sector has not been optimally used so far. And whatever generation capacity has been installed in the state too has been mortgaged to the various Central agencies, NHPC in particular. Isn’t it an irony that these agencies take away power from Jammu and Kashmir and then sell back same to it on exorbitant rates? Indeed it is difficult to find an equivalent to this kind of economic exploitation wherein the resources of a state are used to create something which is then sold back to the same state.

Then there is Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan, which is discriminatory to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While this treaty does not allow the state to utilize its main rivers Chenab, Jehlum and Indus, it is because of this treaty that the north Indian state of Punjab has exclusive rights over the waters of Satluj, Beas and Ravi. See the irony that this treaty has simply mortgaged state’s rights and interests for the sake of Punjab.

Politics aside, Jammu and Kashmir has remained a disadvantaged state as for the development of power sector is concerned. Owing to the reasons best known to those at the political helm, people of the state are well within their rights to suspect there being some kind of design in this. And understandably for those who have to cope with power curtailments stretching to almost 10 hours both during summer and winter months, and 4-6 hour curtailments on alternate evenings during winters, there appears no other valid reason whatsoever to explain why only less than 10 percent of the state’s hydroelectric potential has been exploited so far. Add to it the financial worries of the state, which has to spend huge amounts to purchase power – an expenditure, which together with the rampant and institutionalized corruption here has been casting a dark shadow on the development processes in the state.

Another villain has been the power institutions, and their undue and meaningful delays in completing various power projects. For instance, Salal project on the river Chenab took about 23 years to complete. The Dul Hasti project was commissioned after nearly three decades. Other projects with an estimated capacity of over 2000 MWs entrusted to NHPC over a decade ago are also witnessing delays and cost over-runs. Some continue to be at the ‘project preparation’ stage for various reasons. There are countless other projects which are not being undertaken simply for want of counter-guarantees from the Centre.

Capping it all is the hegemonic arrogance of NHPC whose exploits in Kashmir could put even the erstwhile imperial East India Company to shame. There are numerous examples which can be cited to back up the general perception here that New Delhi has not taken serious interest in developing the power sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Had it not been so then of course the situation here on the power front would have been different. And being a vital input for the progress and development, the state too would obviously have been far better off.

The state government (read Governor’s administration), which is vocal about bringing peace here by through progress and development, which of course is besides its pledge of facilitating political initiatives for the cherished goal, must start pressing New Delhi to wake up to the power needs of the state. Be it seeking compensation on account of the losses brought about by the Indus Waters Treaty or for that matter providing counter-guarantees to the projects that could attract foreign investment, or transfer of projects to the state which have already earned more for the NHPC than what the corporation had invested in them, it is time that government starts demanding J&K’s share and due. Irrespective of how much is invested in other sectors of economy, it remains an indisputable conclusion that all-round progress of the state and prosperity of its people is impossible unless the power sector is made into the super-engine of J&K’s development.

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