As Kashmir stares at blackout nightmare

Published at November 05, 2017 10:29 PM 0Comment(s)1239views

Suhail Ahmad

As Kashmir stares at blackout nightmare

Come winter and the concerns of long and frequent power cuts loom large. Complaints of erratic power cuts have already started to pour in from across Kashmir. The government often attributes erratic power cuts and tough curtailment schedule to the irresponsible usage of electricity by people. Ironically, however, the government and semi-government departments remain the biggest defaulters. Some years back, the government had announced its decision to go for 100 per cent metering of government establishments to account for the electricity supplied to them. The exercise, if carried out in letter and spirit, could have paved way for recovery of huge power arrears from the government departments.

The magnitude of the problem can be gauged from the official statistics. As of February 2011, Rs 894 crores of power arrears were due from about 67 government and semi-government departments. The Jammu division of Public Health Engineering Department (PHE) topped the list of defaulters with an outstanding of Rs 315.42 crores, while as PHE Kashmir owed PDD Rs 28 crores. The Jammu Relief and Rehabilitation Department, which provided electricity to migrant camps and other installations in Jammu, owed Rs 84 crores as arrears. The Estates Department, which provides accommodation to state’s top bureaucrats, officials and ministers including the chief minister, had not paid dues worth Rs 14.88 crores to the power department. Similarly, Police department had a cumulative liability of Rs 15 crores against PDD. The Army, BSF, CRPF and other central forces owed Rs 44 crores as power tariff liability to PDD. The Medical Health department too had not cleared its electricity dues worth 38 crores. Urban Environment Engineering Department (UEED) Kashmir that operates dewatering pumps in Srinagar had a liability of Rs 13 crores. Unfortunately, things have not changed much over the last six years. Government departments and autonomous bodies continue to be guilty of not clearing the power tariff.

Over the years, the government has not been able to act tough against these defaulters and recover the power arrears. To realize the outstanding dues from government and semi-government departments, former chief minister, Omar Abdullah had said defaulter government departments are under notice to clear the arrears. He claimed the process of disconnection had also been initiated in this regard, but to no avail.

There is a dire need for power reforms to bridge the gap between availability and consumption of electricity, and establish a dependable power distribution system in the State. The realization of revenue in consonance with the supply of energy is also important in view of the huge gap between the supply of energy to the consumers and collection of power tariff. There is also an urgent need for implementation of various measures to upgrade the distribution and transmission system from HT to LT levels.

With the armed conflict waging for the last two decades, many serious issues have gone unnoticed in Jammu and Kashmir, including the exploitation of state’s water resources by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). One of the main reasons why NHPC could get away with it was the lack of action from the government. Some years back, speaking at a seminar, the then Minister for PHE, Irrigation & Flood Control, Taj Mohiudin admitted that the successive governments have been responsible for exploitation of state’s water resources. He went on to call the NHPC-run projects in the state as “illegal” and “unconstitutional”, arguing that the Corporation cannot operate in the state without fulfilling the requisite modalities and proper agreement with the state government. The revelation made by Taj that NHPC possessed no agreement, no lease agreement and even no paper signed by the J&K government points to the callousness of the government in letting the Corporation scot free. The official complacency can also be gauged by the fact that an important cabinet order of 1975 regarding Salal project went missing and no wonder the government has failed to trace it. For long, the state has been deprived of the monetary benefits of its water resources under NHPC.

Senior PDP leader, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh also termed the projects under NHPC as “illegal and unconstitutional” and advocated that all power projects be handed over to Power Development Corporation and Power Trade Corporation (PTC). He went to the extent of saying that NHPC was acting like East India Company. The PDP leader also admitted the fault of successive state governments when he said, “Seven projects were handed over to NHPC. That was a complete sell out. We have failed the people. We have let them down.” It is high time that the political leadership of the state rectifies the blunders of past regimes and hold NHPC accountable for using the state’s water resources. It should also look to use water usage charges levied on power generating companies to strengthen power infrastructure in the State.

The state government should also ensure timely completion of various grid stations and other power projects to cope up with the energy demands in the state. Successive governments have flagged power sector as one of the most important concerns, expressing their keenness to transform the power generation scenario in the State from deficit status to the self-reliant one. To meet these claims, the government must ensure fast tracking power generation schemes in the State.

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