The coldest days of winter in the Kashmir valley, known as Chillai Kalan, last forty days from mid-December to the end of January. The region may be associated with pristine white snow and tourists frolicking in Gulmarg, but it is actually a time when there is quite a spike in air pollution. This is due to the abysmal supply of power. Without electricity and electric heaters, coal and wood need to be burnt for warmth and to run a functional home.
Since 2011-12 till now, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has had the highest power deficit across states in the country. The all-time high was a deficit of 25 per cent in 2012-13. It has since reduced slightly, but continues to hover near the 20 per cent mark.
Lack of electricity affects life all around the year. For instance, for Kashmiri artisans– known for their internationally renowned crafts and weaves–a persistent problem is that they have to work by weak candlelight. Huzaifa Pandit, a research scholar from Kashmir University, remembered growing up with long power cuts. “Growing up in the 1990s, we thought it was normal. With curfews outside, no one would venture outside the kerosene lit rooms. Nowadays many people in Srinagar have invertors. But even a few years back, during a power outage, my cousin tripped on some bricks outside the house and broke her leg. It took her four months to recover.” While the apathy and scale of corruption, despite promises and budgetary allocations, is shocking, there is more to the story.
In the last four Jammu and Kashmir state budgets, the largest allocation went to the power segment. The latest budget in fact allots over 20 per cent of the budget to solving the persistent power crisis. This seems like a step in the right direction. But is it the whole picture? In three warehouses in Rawalpora, Rangret and Pampore, thousands of transformers, electric cables and other equipment lie out in the open, rusting in the snow.
“There are 65,000 electric poles and 5,000 transformers lying in the warehouses. Meanwhile, in rural Kashmir people are in desperate need of electricity. Instead of electric poles, they are using wooden sticks and instead of cables they are using mesh wire. Transformers are not available.” Dr Muzaffar Bhat, an RTI activist based in Srinagar, said. Equipment worth Rs 150 crore lies unutilised in warehouses across the valley. Meanwhile, everyday life comes to a standstill in winter.
The state has 28 power plants generating 3210 MegaWatts of hydropower. This should mean that Jammu and Kashmir is one of the power surplus states. However, there is a catch. Twenty-one hydroelectric power plants owned by the Jammu Kashmir Power Development Corporation provide 1211.96 MegaWatts of electricity. The seven larger hydel power plants located in Kashmir are owned by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). This is the highest number of plants owned by the NHPC in any state and generates 2009 MegaWatts of electricity.
NHPC only shares about 13 per cent of the electricity generated in the state with Kashmir. The rest powers other northern Indian states like Haryana, Punjab and Delhi–all with much higher per capita consumption of electricity. An RTI response from NHPC to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative reveals that between 2001 and 2015 the Corporation has earned 194 billion rupees from selling electricity generated in Kashmir and that about two-thirds of the power generated in the state powers other states. This seems, to say the least, grossly unfair given both Jammu and Kashmir are grappling with crippling power shortages in summer and winter, respectively.
As we can see, the state is more than capable of generating and supplying power to its constituents. And yet, as Bhat said, “I don’t know who is exactly responsible–the government or the contractor. But ultimately it is the common people suffering, it is the taxpayers’ money that is going to waste.”
Video by Nadiya Shafi | Article by Madhura Chakraborty
This story has been published in collaboration with Video Volunteers. Please visit the website here.