Problem Power

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Kashmir’s energy crisis remains unchanged as only transmission and not generation and distribution witnesses any major shift, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

When the IAS 2010 topper was literally dislodged in education department, the idea was to get him take J&K Power Development Corporation (JKPDC), an entity that is actually the state’s biggest profit maker, to the next level. The situation, right now, is that while it is making money, a lot of it, it is not in a position to even pay for the debts it has raised from the market. There is a joke in the corporation: “when are we lifting loan to pay the income tax for the profits we make”!

JKSPDC is caught in the crisis that actually belongs to Power Development Department, the buyer of electricity from the JKSPDC and other utilities. The accounts have been in arrears for years. A final decision has already been taken by the government to help the GenCo to have clean books. But the fact is the PDD has not paid it Rs 800 crore of energy that it consumed, this year, so far. This is in addition to other arrears, which are being adjusted against various funds that state paid to fund Baglihar.

That is not the only crisis that JKSPDC is facing. Though the Baglihar stage-II was commissioned almost two years back, it is unable to sell its power for debt servicing. The problem is that the Water Cess made its energy hugely expensive and nobody wants to touch it.

Baglihar-II apart, nothing much has happened in the generation part of energy, the key deficit in Kashmir. Two heritage projects, the Old Ganderbal and Chenani, underwent RMU (renovation, modernization and up-rating) in last few years and are back into generation, officials said.

“There were four small projects totalling 104 MW which suffered some delay but have been given to various construction companies,” a PDC executive said. “After lot of delay, the New Ganderbal is allotted as techno-economic survey for three mega projects Rattle, Karthai, and Sawlakote is already over. CVPP has also tendered out two projects.” Tragedy is that survey, and techno-economic clearances take a long time. When these projects were initiated, market was hungry for power. Now when J&K is moving towards implementation, massive price wars between hydropower and solar are making a big difference.

But the happenings on generation front have not helped improve anything at the ground level. The common refrain on Srinagar streets is that the government shifted to Jammu and took along with many things including the power and the braid choppers!

Officials link the energy crisis to the distribution and the transmission, the two other vital energy areas. The government, a few years back, had initiated the process of upgrading the transmission system into a full-fledged corporation and then setting up various dis-coms (distribution companies) to have area specific responsibility. For one or the other reason, that is yet to take off.

Right now when the NHPC’s twin Uri projects are literally reduced to the lowest ever generation, like the PDC’s small, projects, Kashmir is heavily dependent on imports. “Right now, the work on a 440-KV double circuit transmission line is nearing the final stage and it will improve wheeling capacity by 1000-MWs,” one senior power ministry official said. “This will push the import capacity to nearly 2240 MW which is quite huge in comparison to the 1900-MW odd peak demand that Kashmir exhibits during peak winters. The new line is following the Mughal Road.”

Concerned citizenry and the policy makers in the state government have a consensus on one thing: the poor and run down distribution network, especially in Kashmir districts. J&K has the highest transmission and distribution loss at 58 percept, the highest in India. Officials attribute the crisis to the failure in implementation of various central sponsored schemes for up-gradation the hugely worn out and run down distribution set up. These schemes supposed to be implemented by companies having a sizable balance sheet were not interested in getting into the depth of the state and remained hanging in fire.

Now there is some realisation in the policy making circuit that criteria for the implementing agencies may have to shift to somehow get the local small companies involved. If that happens, that will only rationalise the requirement and availability of the electricity in the peripheral districts outside Srinagar and Jammu.

But the policy making at all levels is currently focussed on generation part.  Delhi’s entire emphasis is to utilise every single drop of water for power generation. More than Rs 30,000 crore in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s package are for power and most of it is for generation.

In the state government while the challenge is to manage the local energy requirements at the political level, the top bureaucracy is, however, highly uninterested in becoming part of J&K power narrative. For more than a year, the only thing that topped the ‘table talk’ in the power corridor was how to shift a “non performing” officer. Since the officer has moved on a new assignment, policymaking exhibits the same inertia.A section of the bureaucracy is insisting that the state should avoid investing in power because it is getting expensive to generate in comparison to the low cost energy available in the open market. Many see the power portfolio with BJP as a factor in the visible inertia.

The other major factor that could have given some sort of boost to thesector was if the ruling PDP could convince its ally, the BJP to accede to the Agenda of Alliance agreement in which the NHPC was supposed to return a project to the state government. After the two parties agreed to the common minimum programme, the allies have been talking differently on this crucial issue. Is this why the state government will not have a separate budget for power in January 11, 2018 budget and now moved to Panchayat’s?

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