Srinagar: Fifteen months after Article 370 was read down and the new union territory of Jammu and Kashmir was promised vikas (progress or development) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the electricity crisis in the Kashmir Valley continues to torment its residents.
Modi had promised vikas for J&K just two days after the erstwhile state had its special status revoked. A month later, in September 2019, Union minister of state for power Raj Kumar Singh had said that for the first time ever, his government was embarking on a mega exercise to make electricity available in J&K 24/7, promising that the electricity supply for winter 2019 would be “far better than the previous year”.
However, as winter 2020 sets in and the demand for power grows even as its supply remains erratic, there are frequent complaints in the Valley about a ‘failed vikas model’. And since the existing grid infrastructure in the Valley can handle only 1,250 MW, the problems of the people are likely to worsen in the days to come.
Powerless in every way
Most of the power generated in Kashmir comes from hydel plants, but when the rivers dry up in the winter, the Valley has to buy power from the northern grid to meet its requirements.
According to The Hindu, J&K has a demand of 1,800 megawatts (MW), but procures less than 1,100 MW from the northern grid, making power cuts a regular part of winter life in the Valley, especially in the last 10 years. This year, with a harsh winter predicted, peak demand will touch 1,900 MW, while the electricity available is only 1,250 MW.
According to the Power Development Department (PDD) schedule, non-metered areas of the Valley are supposed to have seven hours of scheduled power cuts a day, while metered areas are scheduled for 4.5 hours of power cuts daily. However, the fact is that all areas of the Valley face unscheduled power cuts every day for five to seven hours at a time.
“Every October, when the administration shifts to Jammu, the Valley is left in darkness,” said Jafreed Rizwan Shah, a resident of Awantipora, Pulwama. “Every year, the amount of power we receive after they go decreases, as if, until it shifts to its winter capital, the civil secretariat is the electricity generator for the Valley.”
Those who live in rural areas suffer the most. “The supply comes for minutes and goes for hours. We rarely get electricity for even one hour at a stretch on any day,” said a number of people who live in small towns and far-flung hamlets.
They added: “At times we are unable to charge our mobile phones. The unavailability of power inflicts losses on business establishments, health centres and commercial institutions.”
This winter, as has become the norm, people all over the Valley are protesting the lack of power supply. The workshops of the PDD are also packed with consumers waiting to get damaged transformers repaired.
Meanwhile, units in industrial estates lie idle since they cannot function without electricity. “The power crisis is a major barrier for industrial growth in the Valley,” said Malik Sarwar who runs a bottled water unit at Lassipora industrial estate, Pulwama. “Due to power shortage and fluctuations, many unit holders suffer huge losses and eventually wind up their businesses. Power woes not only disrupt production, but fluctuations also damage the machinery and capital worth crores of rupees.”
Every day, the Lassipora industrial estate has power cuts for six hours. “When there is a power crisis in the industrial areas, why would anyone from outside invest?” 31-year-old Malik asked The Wire.
Power cuts also hurt students. “My studies are badly impacted by the power crisis,” said Lone Irfan, a B.Sc student from Darganaie Gund village in Tral sub-district. “The power is off 20 hours out of 24, because the department follows no schedule. In the evenings, we have to rely on lanterns, solar torches and candles. There is no study or preparation after evening prayers.”
Ailing people also suffer during power cuts, especially patients of the COVID-19 virus who use ventilators at home. “My father was recently declared COVID-19 positive; he needs supplemental oxygen several times a day. I had to buy an inverter to ensure that power is available whenever he requires his ventilator,” said Showkat Zargar, another resident of Darganaie Gund village.
‘Electronic gadgets to blame’
Thanks to a growing gap between the demand in the Valley for electricity and its supply, experts believe that the worst of the power crisis is yet to come. For instance, during Chillai-Kalan (the 40 harshest days of winter in the Kashmir valley), most households use crude heaters, boilers and other heating appliances, resulting in a grid overload that damages power supply lines and transformers. Power theft also contributes to this overload.
Sources in the PDD said that the demand for power goes up to 2,800 MW during Chillai-Kalan. “Nobody can help in this situation. Even by managing all our resources, including importing electricity, we will not be able to provide more than 1,500 or 1,600 MW to our consumers,” said a PDD official on the condition of anonymity.
This year, the power situation became inconsistent and irregular even before the advent of winter. However, according to Aijaz Ahmed Dar, chief engineer of the Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Limited (KPDCL), what is happening cannot be called a ‘power crisis’. “We are supplying 400 MW extra power,” he told The Wire. “The truth is that people overload the grids with an excessive use of electronic gadgets, which results in the grids tripping. If people avoid using these gadgets, especially in peak hours, the department can cope with the load easily.”
Dar added that the KPDCL conducts frequent raids against illegal connections in the Kashmir valley, seizing heaters and boilers, so that the valley need not suffer unscheduled power curtailment.
Regarding the Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme that was supposed to have been implemented in 2019, Dar said: “Due to COVID-19 there was a delay in its implementation but it should be done in the coming months. Once the process is completed, we expect transmission losses to come down. This will be a massive step towards providing 22-hour electricity,” he said.