The region has the potential to generate about 20,000 MW of hydropower, creating countless jobs and numerous avenues for skill development
By KA Badarinath
When the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Plant (330 MW) in Bandipora district was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last May, not many would have imagined the benefits it would bring to Jammu & Kashmir in just over a year.
The NHPC-owned project was viewed by critics as a drain on the resources of the central power utility. But the dividends and prosperity this project, an engineering marvel with a 23.24-km tunnel, has brought to the new Union Territory proves the critics wrong.
Frivolous attempts by Pakistan to stymie construction of this project were fought hard by India at The Hague (Permanent Court of Arbitration). In the first 10 months of Jammu and Kashmir becoming the UT, it got 85.12 million kWh free power worth Rs 34.31 crore, and Rs 10.54 crore towards water usage charges.
In fact, this project is the tip of the iceberg for the valley that hitherto reeled under severe power crisis, especially during harsh winter conditions.
Those opposed to abrogation of Article 370 may have underestimated development gains the new dispensation would bring to the Kashmir valley, Jammu, Leh and Ladakh.
Kishanganga is just one in a string of power generation, transmission and distribution projects that are intended at bringing the economy back on track in the trouble-torn valley.
Apart from providing power and channelising water for irrigation, projects like Kishanganga have brought other benefits such as 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 the youth in the valley cannot be ignored.
Recently, the Lieutenant Governor inaugurated 10 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 the foundation stone would also be implemented by central agencies under different schemes over the next one year. Augmenting power distribution that had hitherto been neglected by previous governments led by PDP and National Conference seem to be the right move to bridge the power gap in the UT.
In fact, the peaking demand in Jammu & Kashmir was recently reported to be at 3,400 MW, which constitutes just 1.8% of the national aggregate. And the actual shortages were brought down substantially after the new projects were realised on the ground.
Infusing much required liquidity at Rs 4,580 crore via project financing by the PFC (Power Finance Corporation) and the REC (Rural Electrification Corporation) under Atmanirbhar Bharat is under way. This would hasten new projects under implementation.
Jammu & Kashmir has the potential to generate about 20,000 MW of hydropower (11,283 MW in Chenab basin, 3,084 MW in Jhelum, 500 MW in Ravi and 1,608 MW in Indus). Once the entire power potential is exploited, Jammu & Kashmir can be turned into a net energy exporter.
Efforts in this direction seem to have been made with the Pakul hydroelectric power project (1,000 MW) being executed on fast-track basis. Yet another project in Chenab valley, Kiru hydroelectric power project (624 MW), also seems to be in advanced stages of implementation. While the PFC is largely funding these two ventures, the PTC (Power Trading Corporation) 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 orderly development of energy resources in the two UTs, benefiting consumers in the region as power tariffs are expected to be regulated by an independent commission.
The report of the Alok Kumar-led panel to ensure round-the-clock power availability in both the UTs needs to be quickly implemented. If industry, agriculture and household consumption demand are to be met, a fool-proof plan needs to be rolled out.
As a first step, reeking power infrastructure needs to be overhauled. A beginning seems to have been made to replace wooden poles and barbed wire conductors by investing Rs 90.09 crore, the approval for which has already been given by the Union Ministry of Power.
The power sector ecosystem is undergoing marked transformation with most central power utilities and finance companies pumping in funds towards community infrastructure development and providing non-commercial services. For instance, NTPC, Power Grid, NHPC, PFC and REC have committed over Rs 100 crore towards community projects like skill development, shelter homes, etc. Another Rs 500 crore is being invested by different ministries at the Centre towards job opportunities, street lighting, etc.
Jammu & Kashmir, it appears, is on a transformational path.
The author is former editor, Financial Chronicle