November 2019 News

Why The Power Crisis In Kashmir Is Worsening

29 November 2019
The Wire
Mudasir Ahmad

Srinagar: When Kashmir was in the midst of an unprecedented lockdown this September, authorities from the local administration persuaded more than 200 labourers from West Bengal and Jharkhand to return to the Valley to complete the construction of a vital power transmission line. The labourers had left the Valley on August 5, when the Centre stripped J&K of its special status, leaving the work incomplete. The labourers, who worked on the line for months together, agreed to come back. They were ferried under security cover and provided accommodation and other facilities at different grid stations in Srinagar and Budgam. Every morning since then, more than two months ago, the labourers have been transported to the sites under security cover to meet the deadline for the project, which will enhance the Valley's power handling capacity and address the growing power woes. It has already missed two deadlines. Things were going as per plan, according to one official. Then, on November 7, the Valley received the season's first snowfall. One after the other, at least 10 transmission towers on the line came down, crashing under the weight of the snow. Most of these were completed during recent months. The damage dashed the hopes of people to get improved and uninterrupted power supply, but also raises questions about the execution of the project. 'We are back to square one,' said the official. 'We were planning to give people some relief after years of wait, but unfortunately their suffering will continue this winter too.' Senior officials at the department are in shock and struggling to explain how the line collapsed. In 2006, when the Congress-led UPA government announced Rs 33,000 crore from the Prime Ministers Reconstruction Program (PMRP) for Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of several grid stations was sanctioned across the erstwhile state. Two grid stations allotted to the Valley, at Alsteng in Ganderbal and another in Budgam, would have increased the power handling capacity at 220 kV by an additional 510 MW and taken the overall import capacity to 1760 MW from the present 1250 MW. This would have been sufficient to address the energy demand, particularly during the winter, when the power demand rises to around 1800 MW. Work on both the projects was taken up in 2008. It moved at snail's pace for years till it was altogether suspended. The administrative department cited lack of funds as the reason. 'That was never the case as funds were always available,' said another official. 'It seemed a design at the bureaucratic level to sabotage the projects.' The Budgam grid was finally completed in 2013. But the multi-crore project became the victim of official apathy. The grid station was built in the middle of a congested locality and people have been objecting to the 'right of way' to allow the laying of a line for transmission of the electricity. The station remains underutilised and is only put to use to meet the power needs of some local areas. The Alsteng station caught the attention of the government in 2017, when Kashmir suffered its worst power crisis and people were subjected to unscheduled and long power cuts. Then J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired at least three meetings to review the execution of the project and directed the department to commission the grid station by March 2018. By then, the department had already missed two deadlines. The fresh deadline was never met. Mufti lost power in June 2018 and J&K came under governor's rule. One of the advisors to the governor, K. Saknandan, who was in charge of the power department, set November 2018 as the deadline for the execution of the project. The work on the grid station was completed in December 2018, a month after the deadline. As trial runs were being conducted at the grid station, it struck the authorities that the transmission line connecting the grid station in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district to Zainakote grid in Budgam was incomplete. The line was vital to connect Alsteng with the existing system in the Valley to enhance the power transmission capacity. The work on the 45-km line, with 161 transmission towers, was taken up in 2012. One of the main reasons for the delay in the completion of the project was the government's failure to negotiate with people to acquire land for transmission towers in their orchards and agriculture fields, mostly in the villages of Budgam. Last year, the government finally put its foot down and decided to go for compulsory acquisition of the land to construct the remaining 30 towers. 'When the devastation struck on November 7, only 10-12% of the work was incomplete,' said a superintendent engineer. 'We were planning to commission the grid and the transmission line by the middle of December.' He said the department was unable to explain how the towers collapsed. 'We will assess the reasons for the damage. It has to be seen whether there is a design fault,' said the official. 'We will also ascertain whether the snow load factor was taken into consideration during the construction of these towers.' The 45-km transmission line is part of the Rs 130 crore project that runs from Zainakote up to Mir Bazaar in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. 'The damage to the line is a serious issue and responsibility has to be fixed,' said the official. The project was initially executed by a Hyderabad-based agency. It, however, left the project some years ago. The work was ultimately taken up by the power department through local contractors. With the onset of winter, the unscheduled and prolonged power cuts become an unwritten rule, not only in non-metered areas, but metered as well, as the power demand shoots up. Since the existing grid infrastructure in the Valley can handle only 1250 MW, the people's woes are likely to worsen in the days to come. 'Even if we decide to purchase more power from the northern grid, where is the capacity to handle it,' asked the engineer. According to official data, there are 10 lakh consumers registered with the power department in the Valley. The region witnesses a 10-12% increase in power demand annually. 'These days, the peak demand sometimes touches 1900 MW, but the availability is only 1250 MW,' said the official, adding unless the grid capacity is increased by another 1000 MW, the Valley's power crisis would not end.