JK Govt seeks return of Salal, package for unrest victims

Srinagar: Looking ahead for ways and means to cheer up the outraged people of restive Kashmir, the state government has started lobbying in New Delhi -seeking return of Salal Hydel Power Project, and package for the families of those killed, or wounded during the ongoing unrest.

Sources said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her “core team” have been lobbying in the central government for some “attractive package, which helps the government win back hearts of people of Kashmir.”

Sources said the Union government has shown willingness on return of Salal, whereas negotiations are still underway over package for unrest affected families.

Sources said a main reason of Mehbooba’s recent visit to the national capital was to know the status of response to her requests. “Good news is expected in the coming days. Initial announcement could be about the return of hydel project. This I can tell you with confidence,” said a source privy to the development.

The demand for return of Salal had come to spotlight earlier this year when the then Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed died and state came under Governor-rule. To renegotiate over continuance of alliance with the rightwing Bharatiya Janta Party, the PDP had demanded immediate return of Salal to the state kitty as a Confidence Building Measure.

That time, in a bid to end deadlock over government formation, the union government was believed to have agreed to return Salal. But it wasn’t returned after Mehbooba went ahead to lead the second innings of the alliance.

Built over Chenab river, Salal is located near Reasi in the Jammu region. The project was commissioned in two stages, at a total cost of Rs. 935,500,000. In the first stage, a 345 MW power station was commissioned in 1987. In the second stage, the station's total capacity was doubled to 690 MW by 1995.

The technocrats, however, are pessimistic of JK getting benefitted by return of “dead horse.”

Earlier this year as the news started doing the rounds over return of Salal, noted technocrat Iftikhar Drabu dropped a bombshell by writing an expert-paper over the issue.

Drabu, who has worked on some of the major hydro power projects in India and China snubbed the voices, seeking return of power projects like Salal, Uri and Dulhasti to the State’s kitty. He said such a demand would not benefit the State but could actually end up as liability.

"There is a big misconception that once hydro power projects from NHPC are returned, the State Government will be cash rich and that it will herald a new dawn of prosperity for the State where people will no longer have to work but will be able to live off the profits from these projects," Drabu said, in his technical-paper, which triggered a mega debate.

Laced with facts and figures, Drabu said "This misconception is presumably based on their incorrect understanding that currently NHPC sells the energy it generates on a monopolistic basis thereby making huge profits. From this follows the demand that JKSPDC replace NHPC as owner of these projects so that the State Government get these profits in its coffers. The fact of the matter is that the energy tariff is determined through a due regulatory process to ensure its competitiveness. I do not believe there will be any change in the fortunes of the State post return of these projects."

He added "On the other hand I seriously apprehend that we could be worse off post their return."

Though his opinion was countered by Kashmir Center for Social and Development Studies, a  civil society seeking return of power projects, the KCSDS couldn’t give a convincing reply to plead their point.

The viewpoint expressed by columnists backing the KCSDS was seen as more of personal attack on Drabu than a “strong technical argument.” 

The two parties were expected to call a debate over the issue while the government was preparing to celebrate the return of Salal.

But much before the celebrations would arrive, Kashmir erupted in the wake of killing of militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and his two associates on July 8. The Valley has been on the boil since while atleast 91 people were killed, another over 12,000 were wounded, and around 1000 blinded in action by government forces against protesters.


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