Over 5000 crores annually are approximately spent to purchase the electricity despite having our own surplus resources. You can say the insincerity, lack of will and the rampant corruption is the main cause that fails the state to have adequate electricity.
As profound winters set in, Kashmir faces another set of protests and marches – but this time, for electricity. Scores of students in the Valley have taken to the streets to protest against the ever-mounting power cuts that hamper their study hours. The massive power curtailment, sometimes for as long as seventeen hours in non-metered areas, is not new here, for as the winters set in Kashmir and the severe cold wave follows, it culminates in the severe power shortages and disruptions. Reports suggest that the ongoing power crises in the valley might worsen further due to the receding water level in the rivers, alongside the fact that the gap between demand and supply is also widening. It is something of a routine winter phenomenon for bulbs to start flickering come October, like the politicians who migrate to Jammu, joke the locals.
Jokes apart, the mere fact that the electricity interregnums have brought throngs of citizens to the streets should be alarming enough and an analysis of the contributing factors leaves one feeling gloomy. Interestingly, the air is rife with conspiracy theories about the ‘missing’ power, and by far the most interesting one is that the electricity supply of Kashmir’s quota is craftily diverted to Jammu. This rings coherent in light of the fact that the power cuts coincided with the seasonal relocation of the State administration to the winter capital, Jammu. While this is only a theory (unproved and untested), it still has people speculating. On the other hand, we have authorities from Kashmir’s Power Development Department rubbishing these claims, and blaming the havoc on lack of infrastructure, transmission losses instead and under-utilisation of resources.
Moving on from conspiratorial assessments to the exegesis of facts, the Electricity Department has issued notices on the scheduled power cuts – it stipulated three hours for metered areas, and eight hours for non-metered ones. This is just official acclaim, of course. Quite dismally, the real power cuts last for at least an additional five hours! At times, locals claim, power cuts in non-metered areas can last as long as SEVENTEEN hours. This discriminatory approach when dealing with metered and non-metered regions also got students hyped up about the street protests.
Further, the Ministry states that the supply is unable to meet the demand, as people use excessive electrical appliances in winters, forcing us to levy power cuts. They also claim that the prime contributor to this power inefficiency is the heavy transmission losses that amount to nearly 50% of the power that could’ve been available getting wasted – essentially supporting the fact that even the State Power Department is at loss, with around Rs. 3,000 crores of potential revenue being lost every year! That these are problems that have to do with the obsolete distribution and handling networks we agree, but why nothing substantial has been done to revive and rejuvenate the networks is the question the average citizen seeks an answer to.
Now, to locate and contextualize the problem that even authorities within the Ministry acknowledge, let us go back in history: It is believed that the misplacement of a very important in around 1975, pertaining to the agreement between the State of J&K and the Centre for execution, energy-sharing and transfer of Salal Power Project on the Chenab to J&K has prompted a civil society group to approach the court. It is also being said that the then chairman of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) Peerzada Ghulam Nabi, the only state subject of J&K to head the corporation, and the then State Power Commissioner were involved in “deliberately misplacing” the records due to which the state suffered a whooping loss of well over Rs 10,000 crores — the value of energy generated by Salal per annum over the years.
Amidst such heated controversies, Jammu and Kashmir’s power crisis could potentially worsen, given the state’s lack of control over the major hydropower projects it depends on for its electricity needs clubbed with delays in getting new projects off the ground. The power requirement in the state is met from generation from their own power plants, allocated share from central generating stations and power purchased from market. The peak demand of state during the current year (April to October, 2017) was 2,768 MW and the demand met was 2,214 MW, thus, leaving a shortfall of around 554 MW (20%). At present, around 70 per cent of the energy requirement is being met from central generating stations in the state, it said. The allocation of power to J&K from Central Generating Stations (CGS) is 2,397 MW. The supply from CGS includes power stations of NTPC, NHPC, SJVNL and the like.
This high dependence on the Northern Grid for power supply has been a much discussed issue, and is most pertinent in winters, when demand goes up and generation goes down. The Eighteenth All India Power Survey projected that the power demands of Jammu and Kashmir would increase from 1,706 megawatts – 9,640 million units of electricity in 2004-’05 – to 4,217 megawatts or 21,887 million units of electricity in 2021-22.
According to the state’s 2016 Economic Survey Report, the state’s peak demand for power has grown by 8% from 2011-’12 to 2015-’16.The report said that peak deficit had fallen from 28% in 2012-’13 to 23% in 2015-’16. But that must be weighed against that fact that of the 24,655 total habitations in the state, 11,006 or 45% were unelectrified, de-electrified, or partially electrified as on October 2013.
As of 2016, three lakh households were yet to be electrified! Central to the political rhetoric power has been the question of who controls the state’s energy-generating resources. Back in 2011, Congress leader and then power minister Taj Mohiuddin had compared the National Hydro Electric Power Corporation to the colonial-era East India Company, which went on to become a statement that is oft-quoted even today.
Interestingly, about 84% of the total estimated potential from the state’s water resources has not yet been harnessed and in alignment with consecutive State Surveys, the rivers of Jammu and Kashmir have the potential to yield 20,000 megawatts of power, out of which 16,480 megawatts have been identified so far. According to the state survey report, the hydel projects constructed in the Central sector “allow the state only 12% of energy actually generated and even in the state sector 450 MW Baglihar Hydel Project commissioned recently, the state has to sell about 50% of the energy to outside buyers as a precondition imposed by the rendering institutions, leaving its own inherent consumers striving for access to energy.
All this because, owing to Indus Water treaty, the state has to comply with the stifling designs of Hydel projects. Moreover, the transmission issues that come with having to purchase electricity from the Northern Grid are abundant.
An official of the Power Development Department says during year 2013-14, the PDD lost 415.63 million units during inter-state transmission, 674.69 million units during intra-state transmission and 5758.08 million units as distribution losses.So, in terms of transmission and distribution losses, the state of Jammu and Kashmir definitely tops all of India with a loss percentage 61.61, of which 51.80 percent are plainly distribution losses. That means the energy that was actually billed in 2013-14 was only 4267 million units.
On a lighter note, even with all the evils of not having adequate electricity, there is one section of the citizenry that has benefitted: the Kangri craftsmen and retailers. Besides woollens, one thing that Kashmiris think of when preparing for the chilling winter cold is the kangri, an earthen bowl encased in an exquisitely woven wicker basket.
With temperatures falling as low as -80 C, Kashmiris have traditionally used kangri and pheran to keep comfortable. Marred by the long power cuts in winter, many find it practical to use kangris to warm their homes. This time around, too, people have taken to the markets for buying a couple of them, with sellers claiming booming sales and returns. Herein, we see the population holding on to tradition and employing it pragmatically to counter disappointments with failed delivery from the State.
Towards the close, it is pertinent to mention that the citizenry at times ends up aggravating the issue (power stealers, we are looking at you). The Power Development Department says the budget for procuring energy is limited. Last year, the government spent Rs 3,700 crore on electricity but only Rs 1,500 crore was recovered from the consumers! Consequently, we have seen measures from The Power Development Department to educate children about power theft, so they may in turn prevent their parents from resorting to such means.
All in all, with theories of water diversion, massive Central control over the state resources, enormous transmission losses, widening gap between power supply and demand and the rising instances of power theft, we ought to realize that lakhs of people still reel under pitch darkness. And the students remain the worst sufferers.