Javaid Trali

J&K water resources should fulfil the domestic power needs

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Leave aside supplying power to industries, J&K is not even able to take care of its domestic power needs.

Jammu and Kashmir has abundant water resources. Statistically, this is a fact. These water resources, once harnessed for generating electricity, have the potential to make J&K one of the richest places in the entire subcontinent. But this is a hollow claim. Of course, there are several reasons for saying this. For so long we, the natives of J&K, have been told that the erstwhile state has the potential to generate more than 20,000-25,000 MWs of cheap and largely eco-friendly hydroelectricity. It goes without saying that technically this huge amount of power would be more than sufficient to run industrial super-engines in more than half of the country, besides of course lighting up people’s homes. One could only imagine the economic windfall it will bring to this place. It hasn’t happened thus far, so what makes us think it will happen in the future? Someone should perhaps try and explain it to the people of this place.

Leave aside supplying power to industries, J&K is not even able to take care of its domestic power needs. This is why when catch-phrases like ‘shining India’ or ‘self-reliant India’ (Atmanirbhar Bharat) are making it into the political verbiage elsewhere in the country. Whereas in J&K people have to remain content with dreams and promises of attaining self-reliance in the power sector. Every year the people are told that this milestone is just around the corner, and still, no one knows how and who pushes this goal-post still further away from reach. It seems that the people have been made into mythic Sisyphus – forced to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, that always rolls back down to the bottom just as they reach the top.

With the onset of autumn, people in Kashmir are, without fail, told that everything is in place for the cold season ahead. Loud and overly assertive claims are made vis-à-vis electricity — people are told that this winter they will face minimal power-cuts, that a buffer stock of transformers is ready for timely replacement of worn-out or burnt-out ones. This time around too, like always, many promises were made – but only to be observed in the breach. The long, unscheduled and unexplained power-cuts have become the norm here – unfortunately, it started only within a few days after the seat of power (the ‘Darbar’) shifted to the winter capital Jammu. Though a curtailment schedule has been notified by the Power Development Department (PDD) to bridge the gap between supply and demand, this schedule would have served its purpose, only if it were adhered to. But it is not. So the common people are – for one more winter—finding themselves at the receiving end of the fake and false official promises and pledges.

For as long as one could remember, power shortage has been a perennial problem in J&K – it gets fairly ugly during the extreme winters in Kashmir, and fiercely brutal during hot summers in sub-tropical Jammu. Owing to the jaundiced vision of the successive governments, 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 power generation capacity it has, has been mortgaged to the various Central agencies, NHPC in particular.

Political prejudices discounted, howsoever looked at, it is an irony that these agencies sell the Jammu and Kashmir back its ‘own’ power at exorbitant rates! It is difficult to find an equivalent to this kind of exploitation wherein, the resources of a place are sold back to it with a hefty share of profit for the seller.

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

Some former governments in the erstwhile state did talk about it – some even went to the extent of advocating a bigger share of free power for J&K from the Centre. But like so many other things, this political posturing over the issue couldn’t yield anything tangible. It is but natural to wonder (and also question) if at all they really meant what they had postured for in the domestic public domain. Same has been the fate of claims of compensation for the losses suffered by Jammu and Kashmir owing to the discriminatory treaty.

If at all they felt that this treaty was detrimental to the interests of J&K, the ideal path would have been to fight it out within the system — legally in the country’s Supreme Court, and democratically in the echelons of political power. But no government here, for past more than 60 years, chose this path – which puts a big question mark over their professed and actual beliefs vis-à-vis J&K, and its interests, including that of the people living in this territory.

Politics aside, Jammu and Kashmir has remained highly disadvantaged place as far as the development of power sector is concerned. For reasons best known to those at the political helm, people of the erstwhile state are well within their rights to say that there are some nefarious intentions involved in doing so. And understandably for those who have to cope with power curtailments stretching to almost 8-10 hours both during summer and winter months, and 4-6 hour curtailments on alternate evenings during the winters in Kashmir, there appears no other valid reason whatsoever to explain why only less than 20 percent of the erstwhile state’s hydroelectric potential has been utilized so far.

Add to it the financial worries — J&K has to spend huge amounts to purchase power – an expenditure, which, together with the rampant and institutionalized corruption here, has been casting dark shadows on the entire and overall development process in the erstwhile state.

Another villain has been 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 some two decades 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 were not undertaken simply for want of counter-guarantees from the Centre.

Capping it all is the domineering arrogance of NHPC, whose exploits in J&K could put even the worst of imperial companies to shame. There are numerous examples which can be cited to back up the general perception here that New Delhi has not taken a 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.

J&K would be far better off politically only if the energy is considered a vital input for social and economic development. That is to say, the change in political equations since August-2019 having brought J&K under the direct rule and control of New Delhi, which is so vocal about bringing peace here through progress and development, must wake up to the power needs of this place. Be it compensating the losses caused by the Indus Waters Treaty or providing counter-guarantees to the projects that could attract foreign investment, or transferring of power projects to J&K which have already earned more for the NHPC than what the corporation had put into them, it is time to take action to harness and develop hydropower sector here.

The geographic location of J&K, with very limited access to almost every single input needed for the industrial development, puts this place at a visible disadvantage. It’s a reality that besides its local arts and crafts which are a product of traditional crafts industry; J&K does not have many portable economic commodities for the sustenance of a viable and massive industrial base here. But the hydro-power sector, definitely has both promise and potential – the need is to look at the abundant water resources here as an economic commodity, and then attract investments for the development of this sector. Once the vital energy sector is tapped, development of other industries will follow on its own.

It needs no further explanation that once people’s houses are lit up, and made cozy with the warmth of regular electricity supply, a substantial portion of their mind-space – which remains otherwise occupied by coining and hurling choicest curses and invectives at the governments — will automatically be spared for some real creative and constructive pursuits for progress and development – of both the individual and the collective. History supports this assertion with evidence – the first industrial revolution that followed a prolonged era of war and strife in Europe is a case in point.

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