After tackling the most important item of “Good Governance” pertaining to the rapidly deteriorating living environment, the other urgent task is the provision of basic amenities of day to day living for both the urbanites and the village folk. In spite of being in the twenty first century in what has been called the “Paradise on Earth”, the dwellers in general here lead a pathetic life. No doubt compared to some other parts of India like Bihar, Eastern U.P., Rajasthan, Orissa, and some parts of Africa, we have a much better life style, yet it is not what one would expect with our natural resources! The amount of money supposed to have been invested in building our infrastructure during last 60 years or so should have made Kashmir like a real Paradise but it is still worse than hell in some places. During the severe weather conditions in winter life in the valley and remote areas is really tough. The first and foremost deficiency in the basic infrastructure is the perennial power famine. It is our tragedy that in spite of having the maximum potential for generating hydro-electric power we face a power famine. The worst part of the story is that the same waters are being used to generate power on both sides of the divide but its full use has been made taboo for Kashmiris and we are entitled to mere 12% of the generated power!
The potential of power is so much that after fulfilling our needs we could sell it to our neighbours and live only on that revenue. It is alleged by many that this water has been taken hostage on both the sides of the unnatural divide. However, no one seems to be really concerned about this supposed usurpation of our water resources. Neither the mainstream parties nor the leaders of the popular movement have earnestly thought about this problem. Our first priority should be to solve our power generation problem. This can be done only by mutual interaction between the three concerned parties, India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris. Both the countries have to accept that they are exploiting the waters over which the first right is of Kashmiris. The least they can do is to set up some joint projects for the exclusive use of the local people. There are a number of major projects in the pipeline on both sides of the divide. These projects have not taken care of the local needs honestly and sincerely. These have been planned with the aim of providing power for the use of people living in the mainland on two sides of the border. No doubt, Kashmiris may be getting 12% of the power without any investment but that does not solve our basic problem of the power famine.
There is urgent need to sort out this basic issue of power generation. The micro-hydal projects and the run of the river small power houses are not going to solve the problem. For the generation to keep pace with the demand there is need of some high capacity storage projects for the exclusive use of the local people. These can be set up only when there is agreement between the signatories to Indus Water Treaty which has kept the Kashmir waters hostage to the two neighbouring countries. There is a Power Development Corporation but it has been mostly headed by bureaucrats and is abnormally short of funds. The Corporation should be headed by a top professional in setting up of power projects especially ones connected with hydro-electric power generation. Such a person could be even a foreign expert where many similar projects are functioning. Moreover, the Corporation should be able to raise global finances for setting up various projects. Along with resolving the basic issue of power generation, the government has to revamp the archaic distribution system. The entire distribution network is the most unscientific and obsolete in the present digital age. Maximum losses occur because of this system. I remember one of my friends, a former Chief Engineer, relating to me an anecdote about the system. During the visit of an Engineering Delegation from the erstwhile Soviet Union to downtown Srinagar, the head of the delegation asked the host as to how many people get electrocuted in the city daily? On being told, none, he exclaimed that he had started believing in God!
That was a couple of decades back. Since that time the world has moved far ahead but not our electric system. Recently there had been a news item about creation of a reservoir of transformers. According to another electric engineer, “Instead of rectifying the basic problem, which is poorly laid and overlaid distribution system, and unknown consumers, the engineers have proposed a solution which will increase their under the table earnings, (purchasing a large number of new transformers). The proposed remedy is like prescribing cough syrup for a patient suffering from lung cancer!” One way of ensuring properly functioning transformers could be a maintenance contract with suppliers of the transformers. This would amount outsourcing the job to the companies which are supplying the transformers. They could be legally bound to ensure maintenance/replacement in case of default within 48 hours or so. Failure to do so should entail a progressive penalty. However, in any case the whole distribution system needs to be revamped. Sometime back there was talk of an Asian Development Bank loan being given to J & K for the revamping of the whole system. It is not known what happened to that scheme? Apart from technical problems, the power system in J & K has a human element which sabotages it.
It is what is known as the “Power Theft”. This means consumers using more power than they pay for or using it without paying for it. This is a regular mafia involving both public and the departmental personnel. It is very disheartening for some people who pay full metered charges to see some of their neighbours paying just a pittance by having their meters bypassed by the very staffs which are supposed to monitor these! There is a massive revenue leakage. In a number of cases people do not pay at all by hooking wires that too on high voltage lines in some instances which is extremely hazardous. It may be ultimately worthwhile to realise fixed charges for each connection irrespective of the load. If an average is worked out depending upon energy consumption, a uniform charge can be levied. The overloading can be taken care of by relays which can be suitably calibrated to trip on overload in each receiving station. Thus the problem of “Power” in Kashmir is not an isolated one. It is quite comprehensive and involves multidimensional approach. Few isolated ad hoc measures are not going to cure the disease. Symptomatic treatment may give temporary pain relief but if one is sincere in solving this most basic major problem confronting the planned development of the state, one has to undertake an all inclusive and in depth study and devise a long term time bound programme for its rectification. Unless we do it, we will not be able to talk of good governance in real terms!
(…..to be continued.)