Power-less Kashmir !

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The information that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation has earned Rs 194 billion over the past 15 years from its seven power projects in Jammu and Kashmir has snowballed into a major issue in the state. It has given a fresh momentum to the longstanding public and political demand that NHPC return a few of its power projects in line with its original agreement with the state government. The numbers were revealed by NHPC in response to an RTI application filed by a non-governmental organization J&K RTI Movement. Incidentally, the J&K Government alone has paid Rs 41 billion to buy 19.7 per cent of the power generated by the NHPC-run power projects in the state. The return of the power projects from NHPC has long been an emotional political issue in J&K and draws from a deep sense of victimhood originating from Indus Water Treaty, seen as unfair to the state. The treaty signed in 1960 gave Pakistan lower riparian rights over J&K’s three rivers – Jhelum, Chinab, Indus – while India kept its Punjab rivers –Sutlej, Beas, Ravi. Under the treaty, Kashmir can only build run-of-the-river projects on its rivers to fulfil its energy needs. From NHPC’s projects in the state, J&K gets a meagre 12 percent free power as royalty which works out to be as little as 200 MWs at peak time. This has rendered JK a perennially power-deficient state with the situation getting more desperate in winter.   

There are other facts that have become the reason for unease in the state. That is, while most of NHPC power projects in the states like Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and North East are in joint venture with the respective state governments and the power generated is shared on 50:50 basis, J&K is the only exception where the power utility shares only 12 percent of generation as royalty. So, while states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand have become almost power surplus, J&K despite its vaunted power potential of 20,000 MW falls far short of meeting even its basic energy need. This, as a result, has spawned a popular narrative against NHPC which is tapped into by the political class across the ideological divide. 

Return of the power projects was one of the major demands made by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti while she was holding out against the centre over the three months. Incidentally, the two parties have already agreed in their Agenda of Alliance that the steps will be taken for the return of a few of these power projects to the state. The Agenda of Alliance says that the PDP-BJP regime would “explore modalities for transfer of Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to J&K as suggested by the Rangarajan Committee Report and the Round Table reports”. It also called for the revision of all “royalty agreements”. But so far, nothing has been done. BJP has been silent over the issue adding to unease in the state. And if nothing happens, PDP sure will have to pay a huge political price. The party over the years has built up an elaborate political discourse on the issue, even seeking renegotiation of the agreements. But as the situation stands, the central government led by BJP  is hardly in the mood to relent on the issue. The party refused to give in to Mehbooba’s demand for the return of an NHPC owned  power project as a token Confidence Building Measure. But Mehbooba can hardly afford to give up or go slow on its demand without suffering politically for it.

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