When the Kishanganga hydroelectric power project with 330 Mw capacities located in Bandipur district was dedicated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in last May, not many would have imagined the immense benefits this venture would bring to Jammu & Kashmir in just over a year.
The NHPC-owned hydroelectric project was viewed by critics as a drain on resources of the central power utility. But, the dividends and prosperity of this project, an engineering marvel with 23.24 kilometres long tunnel, has brought to newly minted union territory proved these critics wrong.
Frivolous attempts made by Pakistan to stymie construction of this run of the river project were fought hard by India at The Hague based Permanent Court of Arbitration to make the venture happen and enable the spread of prosperity to the valley and the entire region.
In first ten months after Jammu & Kashmir got the exalted status of becoming the real jewel in India’s crown, the union territory got 85.12 MUs( Million Units) free power worth Rs 34.31 crore and Rs 10.54 crore towards water usage charges.
Well, this project seems to be a tip of the iceberg in the snow-laden valley that hitherto reeled under severe power crisis especially during harsh winter conditions.
Those opposed to abrogation of Article 370, may have primarily under-estimated development gains the new dispensation would bring to the Kashmir valley, Jammu, Leh and Ladakh.
Kishanganga power venture was just one in a string of power generation, transmission and distribution projects that were intended at bringing the economy back on track in the trouble-torn valley.
Apart from providing power and channelizing water for irrigation purposes, projects like Kishanganga also have brought other benefits i.e. access to healthcare at minimal costs, imparting new skills or even local area development like sprucing up parks, roads connectivity or even helping the kids in project vicinity with online classrooms. Over and above, new jobs on offer to youth in the valley that was virtually torn apart by terrorists with their anti-India agenda cannot be ignored.
Only a fortnight back, Lt Governor had inaugurated ten projects in power distribution that were executed at reducing the power shortages reportedly to eight hours a day across Srinagar, Shopian, Anantnag, Budgam and Kulgam districts.
Seven other projects for which he laid foundation stone would also be implemented by central agencies under different schemes over the next one year. Augmenting power distribution that has hitherto been neglected by governments led by PDP and National Conference seems to be the right move to bridge the power gap in the union territory.
In fact, the peaking demand in Jammu & Kashmir was recently reported to be at 3400 Mw that constitutes just 1.8 percent of the national aggregate. And, the actual shortages were brought down substantially after the new projects were realized on the ground.
Jammu & Kashmir has potential for about 20,000 Mw worth hydro-electric power capacities. This includes 11283 Mw in Chenab basin, 3084 in Jhelum, 500 Mw in Ravi and 1608 Mw in Indus basins. Once the entire power potential is exploited, Jammu & Kashmir can be turned into a net energy exporter.
Some efforts in this direction seem to have already been made with Pakul hydroelectric power project having 1000 Mw capacities being executed on a fast-tracking basis. Yet another project in Chenab valley, Kiru hydroelectric power with 624 Mw capacity also seems to be in an advanced stage of implementation. While PFC is largely funding these two ambitious ventures, Power Trading Corporation(PTC) seems to be gearing up to export the excess power from these projects that can be traded on its online platform.
Coupled with financing large power projects, setting up of a joint power regulatory commission for Jammu & Kashmir as well as Ladakh would kick off the much-desired power reforms while allowing for the orderly development of energy resources in the two territories. The consumer in the region is expected to benefit as the power tariff is expected to be regulated by the independent commission.
Report of the Alok Kumar led the high powered panel to ensure stable round the clock power availability in both the union territories need to be quickly implemented for maximizing the economic gains and making the region economically self-reliant and sustainable with its own revenue streams. Well, if industries, agriculture and household consumption demand were to be met, a fool-proof plan needs to be rolled out.
As the first step, dilapidated power infrastructure needs to be overhauled. A beginning seems to have been done to replace wooden poles and barbed wire conductors by investing Rs 90.09 crore, the approval for which has already been given by Power Ministry at the centre. Moreover, infusing much-required liquidity at Rs 4580 crore via financing by Power Finance Corporation(PFC) and Rural Electric Corporation(REC) under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign announced by Prime Minister Modi is presently underway. This would help to address Discoms stress thereby enabling better consumer Services at the ground level.
Over and above, the power sector ecosystem is undergoing a marked transformation with most central power utilities and finance companies pumping in huge funds towards community infrastructure development and providing non-commercial services.
For instance, companies like NTPC, Power Grid, NHPC, PFC and REC have already committed over Rs 100 crore towards several community projects like skills development, shelter homes etc. Yet another Rs 500 crore is being invested by different ministries at the centre to augment the creation of job opportunities, undertake street lighting etc.
Jammu & Kashmir seems to be firmly on a path to total transformation if the Union government’s plans are any indication leaving behind the scourge of terrorism, mindless killings by anti-India groups that have largely been neutralized.
(The author was an editor with the Financial Chronicle. Views expressed are personal)