For as long as one remembers, we have been told that Jammu and Kashmir has enormous water resources, which, if harnessed for generating electricity, can make it one of the richest states in the entire subcontinent. However, its potential to generate more than 20,000 MW of hydroelectricity notwithstanding, power shortage remains a perennial problem facing the state. Owing to 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, 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. Isn’t it an irony that these agencies take away power from Jammu and Kashmir and then sell the same back to it on exorbitant rates? Indeed it is difficult to find an equivalent to this kind of exploitation and economic predation 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 and other north Indian states! People of Kashmir are right in asking for a bigger share of free power for the state from the Centre.
One of the previous governments here, led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, had for some time put forth the demand for increasing the state’s free power share from 12 percent to 25 percent, but then what happened to that demand nobody has heard anything since. Although it too was never debated whether the 25 percent was appropriate figure given the power shortages faced by Jammu and Kashmir, but it was nevertheless something to begin with. However, as always happens here, such slogans are raised, momentary political benefits reaped, and then the slogans die as quickly as they are made to ride the popular imagination.
The ruling dispensations that followed have not even once talked about the demand for increased power – at least for the sake of letting people feel that there is some sort of continuity in what governments say and do, and that the successive governments were following up on the demands raised by a previous one. Same is more or less case with the demand for compensation for the losses suffered by Jammu and Kashmir owing to the Indus Waters Treaty.
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 right to suspect there being some kind of design in this. And understandably for those who have to cope with daily power curtailments stretching to almost 10 hours during winter months, there appears no other valid reason whatsoever to explain why the state’s hydroelectric potential has not been exploited so far. Add to it the financial worries of the state, which has to spend huge amounts to purchase power – an expenditure, about which governments have confessed “has been casting a dark shadow on the development process in the state."
Another villain has been the power institutions, and their undue and ‘meaningful’ delays in completing the 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 MW entrusted to NHPC are also witnessing delays and cost over-runs. Some continue to be at the 'project preparation' stage for various reasons. Indeed there are numerous examples which can be cited to back up the general perception here that neither New Delhi nor the local governments here have taken serious interest in developing the power sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Had it not been so then of course the situation in the state, at least on the power front would have certainly been different. And power being a vital input for the progress and development; the state would obviously have been better off if this sector was developed as per its capacity and potential.