Penury And Power

If Kashmir is reeling under a severe power crisis again this winter, one does not have to look far for the reasons. A casual perusal of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on rural electrification in April last year, one of the latest indictments of the system, sufficiently points to how and why things have gone wrong. It must be admitted that the report was not meant to address the state’s power crisis in the entirety, but that it is a vivid portrayal of the atmosphere in which the state’s power sector has “developed and flourished.”  ‘Irregularities’ and ‘siphoning’ are insufficient words to describe what the CAG had brought to light – for around five years, and in full light of the day, the state government has spent nearly Rs 500 crore under the Rajeev Gandhi Grameen Vidyuktikaran scheme, but has nothing to show for it except a pitiful 10 per cent of the target achieved. How, and on what, had such huge expenditure, then, been incurred?

In a state like Jammu and Kashmir which suffers under a deep and chronic power crunch, every paisa earmarked for the sector must be accounted for. Secondly, the CAG’s figure on the intended beneficiaries demonstrates how abysmally backward the state is in its population’s access to power. On both fronts, the state of affairs is scandalous - the outrage being compounded by the fact Jammu and Kashmir has abundant hydro-electric potential. The last heaps insult on the injury because, according to the CAG, 14 hydel plants (seven under the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and seven under the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Corporation) supposed to be completed by March 2010 were nowhere near the final stage even with the deadline having been exceeded by two years.      

It is difficult to imagine what statistical sleight-of-hand and financial jugglery the state government had used in presenting its figures, but the CAG had sliced through its fog of misrepresentations, indicting the planning wing  of the power department for “inherent contradictions” in its data, and for not coming up with clarifications called for in October the year before. That inefficiency and incompetence plague the government at every level is an established fact, but that alone does not explain the gigantic 90 per cent shortfall the CAG said existed in the government’s execution of the Grameen Vidyuktikaran (rural electrification) project. Clearly, money had been going into select pockets, and not into electric poles, transmission cables, transformers and grid stations. So brazen had the thievery been that over five districts had been shown by the CAG to have had no coverage at all.

In any case, rural electrification in Kashmir has always been a source of enrichment for politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and contractors, whose fortunes have been found multiplying with every new project while the fate of the project itself, indeed the entire power sector, suffered dereliction and decrepitude. The seventies of the last century, when rural electrification was a flagship political sop and slogan, and something of a rage on state-run radio, would provide researchers a goldmine of material on why Jammu and Kashmir is so poor in power, and why some well recognised personalities in the state can rival top names in Forbes 500 in opulent lives and wealth, hidden as well as open.  The crores upon crores the state radio every day claimed the government had spent in giving power to villages had very few signs on the ground, and the countryside continued to live in darkness for decades. Though, as the Vidyukti scheme seemed to indicate, attempts had been made to correct the situation, politicians and others ruling the roost have not corrected their habits.

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