Village in CM’s bastion sans electricity since 18 months

As the world witnessed the biggest blackout in the past week due to failure of northern grid in India, it was life as usually for a small village located in Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s constituency. The village, Rabithar, in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, about thirty kilometers from the summer capital Srinagar, is without electricity from past over eighteen months.

The villagers have run from pillar to post but to no avail as the state’s electricity department has refused to repair the electricity transformer that developed a snag over eighteen months ago.

The refusal has come as the 25 kv transformer was installed in the village under a central sponsored scheme. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, a organization for developing hydro power had taken initiative for contributing in 100 percent village electrification program by 2009 under Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutiran Yojna by assisting many states including Jammu and Kashmir to assist them in achieving the target of electrification of villages with an estimated cost of about 1550 crore.

While talking to the New Indian Express, Altaf Ahmad, who is the sarpanch of the village said: “I went along with few villagers to a top official of the electricity department when the transformer developed fault, but nothing has been done so far.

The state’s electricity department, according to villagers, assured them that that the matter would be taken with NHPC. A senior officer in the electricity department says that the village transformer is not a single case. He claims most of these transformers have developed snag as they are blow capacity.

We were assured that the electricity department has send plan for repair of these transformers to the state government and they were waiting for reply, says Altaf.

The executive engineer of the department in Ganderbal, Masood Ahamad, says the repair has not been carried due to non-availability of funds.  “We have send action plan to government to replace 25 kv to 65 kv,” he adds.

The engineer claims that the much touted scheme in Jammu and Kashmir by the NHPC is in reality ‘a total failure’. In Kashmir households the electricity usage is quite high as people use heaters for a major part of the year and in a scenario like that a 25 kv transformer doesn’t stand a chance to survive,” he says.

The intent of Government of India for providing rural electricity infrastructure and household electrification has been carried by Central Power Sector Undertakings and the states. Government of India has agreed for funding to the extent of 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent as loan.

A top official of the NHPC while admitting that the scheme has face some grave issues says they are working with the state government for a solution.

The state government has drawn flak since the being of Muslim month of fasting- Ramadan, as it has failed to provide regular electricity to people. This year’s Ramadan has also seen sweltering heat which the people of valley are not used to. A panicked chief minister recently announced a booster shot of Rupees 200 crore and even the electricity department changed the schedule and timing of electricity in Kashmir. But, analysts say the corrective steps are not enough and much more needs to be done.

Notwithstanding the month of Ramadan, the government resorted to unscheduled extended power cuts causing huge inconvenience to the Kashmir people forcing them to come out on roads.

Protests broke out at various places across Kashmir against frequent unscheduled power cuts that escalated with the onset of Ramadan. Omar had announced that the government would ensure electricity during Iftar and Sehri during Ramadan. “We will ensure as much electricity as possible,” he had tweeted on social networking website Twitter.

However, contrary to Omar’s statement, the electricity department’s revised schedule said that people would be subjected to one Iftar and one Sehri cut during a week both in metered and un-metered areas.

With no let up in the power crisis, people braving scorching heat today hit streets to demand uninterrupted supply of electricity. Hundreds of people including women and children staged protest against the frequent power cuts in some areas since past few weeks.

The response to the protests was the use of brute force against protesters. Pictures of a woman protester being thrashed by a policeman in uptown area of Srinagar city went viral on the internet. The action was condemned by both the mainstream and resistance leadership of the state. The tech-savvy chief minister, who constantly tweets and is generally pro-active on the cyberspace, in a face saving response announced the booster shot and asked the electricity department to revisit the schedule. But analysts say that the electricity deficit coupled with the flawed measures in the state only mean more trouble for the consumers ahead of the Ramadan. A top official says that summer in Kashmir has become hotter every passing year and the government is now faced with double challenge as in winter there is always a crisis of electricity.