3 villages along LoC in Kupwara connected with national electricity grid
Kupwara: Shouts of ‘Bijli’ from thrilled villagers lit up the face of Kupwara Deputy Commissioner Anshul Garg after efforts for over a year finally connected habitats in Keran and Machil in far north Kashmir to the national power grid, ending an over seven-decade-long wait for people living in these areas along the Line of Control.
“When I took over as deputy commissioner (DC) of this northernmost district of the country, I began interacting with local people living in far-flung areas, especially those in villages located near the LoC (Line of Control),” 31-year-old Garg, an IIT-Delhi graduate, told PTI here.
Villagers in these areas have also enthusiastically participated in elections with the turnout always being over 60 percent, Garg, who took over as DC in February 2019, said.
“Kya hume bijli mil sakti hai sir (can we get electricity sir)? The question was from a delegation from Keran and Machil areas and the question indeed rattled me from inside. After seven decades of Independence, are these people asking me for electricity,” he said recalling details of the meeting during his initial days in the district.
The files on ‘providing electricity’ were pulled out and work started at a frantic pace, the DC said.
“There was a curiosity as to how people can live without electricity, possibly a fundamental right of every citizen of the country,” he said.
“Government departments were fighting and playing pass the parcel with these files. My inner voice said enough is enough, and I made this promise that these villages will be connected with the national power grid at any cost,” Garg said.
“Everything was put on mission mode and I formed inter-departmental teams to work out the proposal and ensure that no file remains pending for any departmental clearance. The theme for a dream was laid on a solid foundation,” he said.
Negotiating eight-months of thick snow cover, manpower issues post-abrogation of Article 370 last year and the COVID-19 lockdown, the district administration connected three villages in Keran and Machil areas of the LoC to the national electricity grid, ending over seven decades of wait.
“The happiness of the villagers was evident. Definitely the entire team of the administration deserves kudos for having achieved this. The hearing of joyous screams of ‘bijli’ from villagers was our reward. I guess it is a job well done,” Garg said.
For receiving just three hours of power, Keran and Machil areas, with nine panchayats and a population of 25,000 people, till recently was dependent on decade-old diesel generator (DG) sets for which fuel was transported from the district headquarters.
“Installed over a decade back, the DG sets were prone to frequent breakdowns, further disrupting the meagre power supply, more so in winters when repairs are next to impossible,” he said.
In 2012, the areas’ residents were hopeful of a quick solution to their power problems after a project of extending the 33 KV line to Keran and establishing a 33/11 KV Grid Station at a cost of Rs 6.5 crore was conceived.
However, hopes started to wither out as no substantial progress was made on the project for nearly seven years apart from some solar lighting systems having limited efficiency that too during summers.
The areas can be approached after a five to six hour arduous journey from Srinagar on a fair-weather road that meanders through apple and walnut orchards of the Kashmir Valley and Pherkian Pass at 10,000 feet in the Shamasbari Ranges.
The areas remain cutoff for nearly six months due to heavy snow, which can reach heights of nine-12 feet.
Lack of direct connectivity with the national electricity grid threw the area into extreme backwardness because of lack of industries, limited medical facilities and television access.
“Essential commodities, especially food items and essential drugs are stored in advance for a year in the area to cater to the winter requirements,” Garg said.
The seven-year-old 33/11 KV electricity line project gathered steam after Kupwara was selected as an ‘aspirational’ district by the NITI Aayog in 2018 amongst 112 districts of the country for quick and effective transformation.
To avoid further delays, the administration decided a target-based approach with fortnightly review of work, regular field inspection by senior officers, besides gathering feedback from Panchayati Raj Institutions, especially from Mohammad Syed Joo, chairman Block Development Council, Keran .
The job was not easy as the administration was faced with acute manpower shortage after the abrogation of Article 370 followed by seven months of snow in winters and the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Garg said that a “small project for the district has triggered revolutionary changes in the lives of the common masses starting from switching on a television as and when they please to better healthcare, water supply, lift irrigation systems and impacting almost every walk of life now dependent on power supply”.
“The aspirations of the empowered people living on the Zero line, at last seem to be part of the Inclusive growth story,” he said.