Protests Are Back In Kashmir, But This Time For Electricity

Protests Are Back In Kashmir, But This Time For Electricity

19 December 2013
Firstpost
Samir Yasir

Srinagar: As the clock strikes six in evening, Amir Hussain, 16, a class 10th student, resident of Mehand Bijbehara in South Kashmir, lights a candle and starts reading under the candlelight. It is arduous going but he has no other option. Hussain, a lean boy with sunken cheeks and round blackish eyes, wants to top his Board of School Education (BOSE) exams next year. But his dream of becoming a topper might not be realised, because of the near absence of electricity in his village, which lies 7 kilometers from the main town of Bijbehra. The village has been grappling with continuous power outages since the beginning of this winter. So last week, instead of reading books, Hussain was among hundreds of protesters blocking the Srinagar-Jammu National highway, the only road link to the valley, fighting pitched battles with police and pelting stones in Bijbehara, demanding electricity. “For the last fourteen days electricity in our village comes only for seven minutes a day, and we pay electricity bills like any other area. Without electricity in winters it is difficult to just survive the bitter cold, let alone study,” Hussain told Firstpost. But the massive power curtailment is not only restricted to this south Kashmir village. The entire state from North to South faces a similar plight. Kashmir’s high altitude areas have already received light snowfall, prompting people to take out their woolens to escape the biting cold. But without electricity, people say, it is impossible to survive the winters. The massive power curtailment, sometimes for as long as seventeen hours in non-metered areas, is in fact not new in the valley. As the winter sets in Kashmir and the severe cold wave follows, it is followed by the severe power shortage. “It has become something of a routine in valley every winter. Come October electricity bulbs start flickering like politicians of the valley who migrate to plains in Jammu.” Muzaffaar Rasool, a lecturer, in Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora said. If government officials are to be believed the ongoing power crises in the valley might worsen further due to the receding water level in the rivers. The gap between demand and supply, officials say, is also widening. They also say power theft is a massive problem. In a bid to counter the problem, officials from the Power Department are now seeking the help of students to stop power theft, and are visiting different schools to educate children about the proper use of the electricity. Bashir Ahmad Khan, the Chief Engineer, Power Development department says the department is educating children so that they will educate their parents and that their must be no hooking and illegal connections. But Khan’s officials on Wednesday, were confronted by angry students who told them about the effect of the power curtailments on their studies and the discriminatory approach adopted by the department in metered and unmetered areas. “My house gets electricity for two hours a day but the other areas in our locality where meters are installed get at least seventeen,” Bilal Ahmad, a students told the officials of the power department. Daily power cuts of between 12 to 15 hours are common occurrences in Kashmir these days. Keeping warm is a struggle and even kitchen work a difficult chore. “We pay Rs 540 every month but despite that every day there are long power cuts,' Altaf Ahmad, a student of engineering from Srinagar said. 'I cannot study for my exams. The bulb keeps flickering, so I have to study by candlelight,' He said. Earlier this year the State government, and its power department, had said no more than 57 hours of power cut per-week in non-metered areas plan would be implemented. Gul Ayaz, Chief Engineer, Operations, Power Development Department says the budget for procuring energy is limited. He says that last year, the government spent Rs 3,700 crore on electricity but only Rs 1,500 crore was recovered from the consumers. “Now imagine the discrepancy between what we are spending on procuring energy and what we are getting,' Gul said. Officials say that the energy requirements of the state are increasing each passing day. The state of Jammu and Kashmir required 9640 million units of energy in the financial year of 2004-05. In 2012 this amount has roughly doubled to around 17823 million units. The energy deficit which was 2334 million units (24.21 percent) in 2004-05 has also doubled to 6283 million units (35.21%) in 2012-13. The State consumed 11115.41 million units in 2011-12 and 11560.03 million units in 2012-13. The gross per capita energy consumption has nearly doubled in last 15 years, a report said last early this year. But the story of energy crises in the state is also due to the loses in the transmission and distribution. An official of the Power Development Department says during year 2011-12, 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 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 2011-12 was only 4267 million units. Despite producing enormous amounts of energy through its power projects, people still reel under darkness. And the students are the worst sufferers.