The 'Power' Crisis 

Photo of wires precariously held by a wooden pole in Downtown, Srinagar. Over the years, winters have always brought with them electricity woes and the early arrival of increased scheduled power cuts has only made the fears of yet another tough winter, more concrete. Pic by Author

Years for experience, months for preparation, unbundling after abrogation and proposals for privatisation later; our Power department still seems expectedly unprepared

By Nousheen Minam

THE Jammu and Kashmir administration served a notice to a Forest Department employee for criticising poor supply of electricity. The employee had uploaded a video on Facebook flagging the electricity crisis in Winters and linking it with its impact on the online education of students in the Valley. The employee, according to the notice, had to furnish a reply explaining his critique which the administration felt amounted to, “misconduct and violation of Section 18 of J&K Government Employees (Conduct Rules) 1971.

The administrations’ reprimand is a reminder that in Kashmir, it is always the my-way-or-highway attitude that rules. When it comes to being prompt with penalty, we see proactive participation. However, the same enthusiasm dies down from tall promises of steady electricity to clarifications on why there are more power cuts than ever.

Winters are hardly new to Kashmir. So, it is quite disappointing to have the KPDCL wake up to these months, as though from a slumber. In November, the corporation had announced a curtailment of 1.5 hours in metered areas and that of 3 hours in metered areas. However, the new schedule now brings twice or thrice the power cuts. As per the revised curtailment schedule, the load shedding hours in metered areas are now 4.5 to 6 hours and those in non-metered areas are 6 to 7.5 hours. This crisis has remained even after repeated claims have been made to ensure self-sufficient and steady supply of electricity in Kashmir. Interestingly, in January this year, an MoU was signed with the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation which was deemed to be instrumental in inviting investment upto 35,000 crores and ensuring a 24 hour supply of electricity in the UT.

Years for experience, months for preparation, unbundling after Abrogation and proposals for privatisation later; our Power department still seems expectedly unprepared. Unscheduled power cuts have irked residents in the valley. Even the new schedule with prolonged power cuts has enraged residents as it makes life inhabitable in a place like Kashmir. Many are aghast at the cuts even before Chilai Kalan has even started. Businesses are facing problems. Students too have to schedule their education around power cuts. Due to Covid-19, even professionals working for firms outside of Kashmir are facing problems as all their work is done through their laptops remotely. This has also affected their performance reviews. Many health equipment also run on electricity, especially in winter months which brings a lot of health problems for residents here.

PDD has argued against these complaints. According to Chief Engineer, KPDCL, Aijaz Ahmad Dhar, the department had ensured a 15% increased supply of energy which has done little as electricity demands have risen exponentially in Kashmir. It seems that the department is supplying more than the promised load agreement of 86o MW for the valley. Instead, it is supplying 1700MW which is still not able to meet the unrestricted power demand of 2800 MW this year.

The power department has blamed people for power theft and claims that electricity is not being used responsibly.

It is true that the department should do assessment and arrangements before hell breaks loose every year. It is the administration and the power department that has the resources and capital to assess and mitigate this crisis in time. Individual efforts from individuals can rarely culminate into some substantial results.

Nonetheless, as responsible citizens, we must ensure that our hands are clean as well. We have all encountered power thefts in our neighborhoods. Even in metered areas where checks are conducted, people still manage to find their way to steal electricity. In winters, it is these people who then take the liberty of using heating appliances without a care for energy. The Power department is not wrong in calling out power theft. It not only leads to immediate fallouts but cultivates in households, an irresponsible attitude towards use of energy. As a result, some households have all their geysers on throughout the day. They don’t care for energy efficient bulbs and wouldn’t strain a nerve to switch off the lights. As long as the meter isn’t reading consumption, they feel as though they can use electricity recklessly.

The power department had cautioned against the reckless use of electricity and had promised a steady supply of power if it were used judiciously. As responsible consumers, we need to find sustainable alternatives. Even if you aren’t doing electricity theft and have no care in the world for the bill as well, you should still look at alternatives. If you can afford it, you should encourage the use of Hamams which have been traditionally considered trustworthy partners in winters. Kangris are also good alternatives. These may not be too kind on the environment but might distribute the burden that we’ve put on a single source.

It needs to be reiterated here that responsible use of electricity, while necessary, can only do so much. A place like Kashmir needs better plans to increase generation of electricity. The proposals for privatisation of electricity will not do anything more than increasing the burden on residents. Why is it that we’re always in this mess of a situation? Those responsible need to ensure that our future doesn’t resemble winters of the past. This year too, the administration should put all hands on deck to ensure that unscheduled and prolonged power cuts are avoided at all costs. If the PDD deems that residents have a huge role to play, they can issue Dos and Don’ts. The issue needs to be dealt with cooperation. The administration too should not take residents here as villains who need to be put behind bars for raising concerns over something as fundamental as a steady source of electricity.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • The author is an Engineer stationed in Kashmir and working remotely for a private firm based in Bangalore

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