IT IS the most unlikely issue that could tip Kashmir into a fresh spell of unrest, but the growing disaffection with the raw deal over power is silently becoming the central political issue in Jammu & Kashmir. Apart from the separatists, mainstream political parties increasingly see in the issue a compensatory alternative grievance that effortlessly relates them to the people of the state.
The state government used to bear the brunt of the energy-starved people’s resentment but now there’s a new target: the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). The NHPC has emerged as the villain of the piece after its guards belonging to the Central Industrial Security Force killed Altaf Ahmad Sood, a Class XI student, and injured two others outside its Uri project on 2 January. They were part of a 500- strong crowd demanding electricity.
The killing and its circumstances couldn’t have been more symbolic of Kashmir’s lingering power woes and its attendant politics. It added to the simmering public anger in the Valley where the NHPC is increasingly being seen as the usurper of the state’s water resources, with Power Minister Taj Mohiuddin even equating the corporation with the East India Company.
Of its generation capacity of 5,295 MW, the NHPC draws a lion’s share (1,680 MW) from J&K. Among the corporation’s 11 upcoming projects, four will be in the state: Uri-II (280 MW), Kishenganga (330 MW), Nimo Bazgo (45 MW) and Chutak (44 MW).
Over the years, the state has built up a deep sense of victimhood around its inability to meet its power needs, a problem that traces its genesis to the Indus Water Treaty. The treaty gave Pakistan exclusive rights over J&K’s three rivers, Jhelum, Chenab and Indus, while India got the right for the exclusive use of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. Under the treaty, J&K can build only run-of-the-river projects to fulfil its energy needs. But even here, the need for massive investment left the state with little option but to seek outside help. However, the Centre refused to give counter-guarantees for J&K’s bid to seek foreign funds.
So, J&K signed deals with the NHPC to build power projects. However, the state gets just 12 percent free power as royalty, which works out to as little as 200 MW at peak time. J&K’s peak power generation is 780 MW while its demand is 2,150 MW in summer and 2,300 MW in winter. This has rendered J&K a perennially power-deficient state with the situation getting more desperate in winter.