In Kashmir, the harsh cold observed in winters is not a small affair. The entire landscape gets painted in dull shades as soon as the summer charm is over. People from the time of the fall only start to prepare for the winter and its avatar chillai kalan. More and more people are realizing that some medical conditions get worse with the adverse weather in Kashmir during winter, like frostbite and respiratory diseases. The inanimate effects like dying of batteries and malfunctioning of electronic equipments are also part of the winter season. It becomes extremely difficult to come out or travel when the temperatures drops below zero degrees Celsius. It is usually accompanied by the light bulb getting dimmer or completely blacked out.
While as communities and people have always been in the quest to find alternative sources of energy to mitigate the effects of the harsh winter, there seems to be little done by the indigenous people here. From clothing to heating equipment, the whole range of products come from outside and are manufactured by people who have little idea about the winter in Kashmir.
Power crisis in the state is also one feature that has become central issue in Kashmir politics with each government promising an end to the woes. Successive governments assured people that they will bring back the projects from the NHPC’s control but failed miserably. We have more projects that will eventually go to NHPC and central government’s kitty.
The state is believed not to have money enough to start its own power projects. But considering the amount of money that state government spends every years in the old practice of tyrannical Dogra regime – Darbar Move – it shouldn’t have been a problem to raise the money. Scrapping the practice that can save hundreds of crores makes sense, as Dogra regime was about monarchy which was replaced by democratic government. The state may also be able to save money to fund the projects. But that requires political will.
The supply of electricity is inadequately provided to the people of Kashmir during winter time. There are scheduled and unscheduled power cuts to save the energy, despite the fact that J&K exports more than 80 percent of its generated electricity to the north Indian states. When the winter sets in, the Government shifts its offices to the Jammu city and leaving the entire summer capital in distress. The road connectivity from Srinagar to Jammu is frequently snapped due to landslides, and intermittent rainfall that delays the essential supply to the Srinagar.
People of the Kashmir live in a distressful state and hardly find work during the winter time, as movement is minimal and people prefer to stay indoors. It reduces the purchasing capacity of the people with a large chunk of population leaving the valley for warm places such as New Delhi. The medical expenditure also increases during the winter period as respiratory related ailments remain prominent. Chest (pulmonary disease) specialists are flooded with patients, and people have to wait for weeks to get an appointment for the patient in Srinagar.
With the acute shortage of electricity, the cold and bleak weather makes the conditions rather unbearable for most of the people. People have to eke out their savings to meet the essential requirements of the winter and on the other hand the administration fails to meet the increased demand and needs of the people which further adds to the economic and financial burden.
Some economic respite could have come by selling the winters in Kashmir to tourists. People all over the world keep looking for places where they can have some adventure and spend their holidays. But, unfortunately there are no plans or services for tourists as heating arrangement also gets affected for the hotel industry.
People are not living a normal life during winters in Kashmir. We fail to see and realize how we are surviving when we could have been better off and enjoyed the winters fully. With regular electricity and heating facilities as a public utility many of the burdens would have been shunted, and the dark months would pass with ease like in developed countries where even harsher climate is observed during winters.
The state government needs to come up with a plan for the welfare of the people, irrespective of the interests of the central government. The state cannot suffer at the cost of centre’s development plans as power goes out of the state.
The power department also needs to be more proactive and not be a servant to the central masters. Cables should be laid and replaced without wasting anytime as one minute in winter makes one suffer like for an hour. The state administration has a duty to provide adequate amount of electricity to the residents, as the consumption during winter time increases. The administration needs to meet all these challenges with a proper plan that they need to envisage for the sake of the state.
BOX: The state government needs to come up with a plan for the welfare of the people, irrespective of the interests of the central government.