SRINAGAR Though entire India is not illuminated by energy generated from Jammu & Kashmir as overall energy production in the country is currently well over 334,000(MW), the bulk (65 percent) of 3593 MW of energy generated from Jammu & Kashmir flows outside the state to the northern grid where from J&K buys energy worth over Rs 7000 crores annually.
Coming up at a huge environmental cost, the hydro-power projects and a network of transmission lines are not serving Jammu & Kashmir, but the government of India, Kashmiri civil society members say.
Environmental degradation, being caused through construction of hydro-power projects and transmission lines is evident even in official documents. For example, construction of the recently completed Samba-Amargarh 1000MW transmission line has incurred quite visible environmental costs in the form of felling of at least 40035 forest trees including Deodar and Kail besides 35322 bushes as per the official documents.
Also, thousands of trees outside forests (belonging to farmers and orchardists) have been cut in Shopian, Pulwama, Budgam and Baramulla districts according to RTI activist, Dr. Raja Muzaffar. The project worth 3000 crores, was executed by the Mumbai-based electric transmission development company, Sterlite Power.
Muzaffar argues that such government orders and permissions happen to be an eye-wash as permissions are granting on the basis of technical language. For example, in the document of the forest department, it has been mentioned that 40035 trees and poles are involved from which approximately 9953 trees/poles/saplings are expected to be felled. But, Muzaffar claims more than double the involved trees have been felled.
What is interesting, is also the quantum of land being approved for such projects through decisions made by Forest Advisory Council (FAC) meetings without highlighting the terms and conditions for such approvals. Kashmir Observer reviewed at least half a dozen such FAC decisions where highlights of terms and conditions for approvals were not mentioned. Proposal was approved on the terms and conditions laid down in the agenda, this is the standard phrase being used for such approvals. Where can people and environmentalists see those terms and conditions, is not clear. In case of Samba-Amargarh 1000MW transmission line, approval for using 372 hectares of land, and in case of Srinagar (Alastang)-Leh 220Kv transmission line, orders about approval of 150 hectares of land were issued in the similar fashion. Add to this the tree felling in Sindh division as well for laying the transmission line. Thousands of trees have been axed in Sindh forest division. I almost wept several times while seeing such devastation, said a resident of Ganderbal who did not reveal his name.
Not manually, but mechanically!
Though company (Sterlite) officials had said that the project (Samba-Amargarh 1000MW transmission line) passes through toughest terrains, it was completed two months before the December 2018 deadline. Wildlife officials told Kashmir Observer on the condition of anonymity that the user agency, while making the most of 2016 unrest in Kashmir, involved huge machinery, instead of the prescribed norms, for laying roads before carrying construction material in heavy trucks and helicranes even inside the Hirpur wildlife sanctuary whose verdant pastures act as habitat for markhor, musk deer and several other species.
So, obviously, they were better placed to complete the work before the deadline, an official of Wildlife department said.
The permission order, reviewed by this writer, clearly mentions that the user agency will do the work manually and use ponies for carrying material. But wildlife officials told Kashmir Observer that they saw the user agency people bulldozing the slopes and wildlife habitat to construct a road from the Mughal Road-end to the tower-location for almost all the 50 towers within the sanctuary.
I think these people took advantage of the 2016 uprising and were even allowed by the state and district administration to use bulldozers and carry out blasting operations, wildlife researchers told this writer in the backdrop of their conversations with people who dealt with the user agency.
Even one of them quoted an official saying this: I once heard one of the engineers saying that we will violate the rules and then pay 10 times more than we are asked to pay. He said that, for them (user agency) to pay for the damage, it is like paying peanuts even if they are asked to pay in crores. Nothing can restore the damage they have caused, he said.
Regional Wildlife Warden, Rashid Naqash, said that his department did its best to secure wildlife habitat and objected to the style of work by the user agency several times by stopping the work and issuing notices to them. We even raised an invoice for the damage they had caused and made them to pay 2.47 crore rupees for mitigating the damage, Naqash told this writer.
Environmental costs for nothing
A prominent economist, Professor Nisar Ali, argues that whether it is the transmission lines or the power projects in Jammu & Kashmir, the people of the state dont stand to benefit given that the state of Jammu & Kashmir is not in a position to generate hydro-power as it is not allowed to do so.
The crux is that the government of India is raising transmission infrastructure for its network of power projects in the state. It has been proven time and again that government of India is just interested in exploiting the water resources of J&K. Just recall the package of 24,000 crore rupees which was announced by the former prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. As much as 18000 crore of that package was meant for power projects of NHPC, Ali said and also referred to the May 2016 statement of union power minister, Piyush Goyal, wherein he had ruled out transfer of two hydro-power projects operated by the National Hydro-power Corporation to Jammu and Kashmir and also denied to increase the power share from NHPC projects from current 12 percent to 25 percent.
He said that the state government is not in a position to utilize transmission infrastructure as it cannot build the power projects on its own. Look at the devastation we are causing to our environment for laying these transmission lines and construction of hydro-power projects. Yet we cant benefit from them, the economist said.
According to him, it is because of the timidity and opportunism of Kashmiri politicians and bureaucrats who are overseeing the plunder of Kashmirs resources.
The seasoned economist said that power (energy) is now a political issue, but not for the politicians of Jammu & Kashmir as they act as jokers. He said that they silently watch while Jammu & Kashmirs future is compromised.
This is criminal, he said and added that Jammu & Kashmir buys electricity worth 7000 crore rupees annually from government of India and, on top of that, loses 57 percent of that electricity through Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses. So, wherefrom can it get the resources to utilize the transmission lines by buying more power. They, at best, will be utilized for taking electricity from here for government of Indias use, he said.
Iftikhar Drabu, a well-known analyst of power sector, echoed the views expressed by Professor Ali with respect to J&K governments week financial position as regards the utilization of power infrastructure being created in the state at environmental costs. How can we expect a state, where electricity worth 4,500 crore rupees is stolen and where there is huge lack of infrastructure for buying power, can utiulize the transmission infrastructure? Drabu asked.
Prominent civil society member and former president of Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), Syed Shakeel Qalander, said that J&K should be allowed to generate capital through its resources for its economic and energy security.
He said that electricity is being produced and taken out of Jammu & Kashmir without caring about the benefits of the state. If we are making huge sacrifices by compromising on the health of our environmental assets, the benefit should go to the people of our state, Qalander said. What is happening instead, is that our resources are being bartered away without making any strong case for our region, he said.
According to Qalander, Maharaja Hari Singh was more aware about the ecological wealth of J&K than the present-day politicians as he twice refused the diversion of a canal to neighboring Punjab despite the fact that he was offered huge money. And look at the present-day politicians of our state who run our affairs. We are being looted and they readily act as instruments for that loot, Qalander said.
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