As the network of low and high power transmission lines increased over the years, people cannot live under them. These parcels of land, however, are the new addresses of Kashmir graveyards, especially in the land-scarce Srinagar city, a place where land rates were never impacted by strife, tensions or politics, reports Minhaj Masoodi
In September 2015, Bashir, (name changed) was evicted and his shed demolished in an anti-encroachment drive by the government along the banks of Jhelum in a Srinagar locality. Faced with the risk of becoming completely homeless, he desperately searched for a patch of land on which he could afford to build a ramshackle home for his family.
Owing to the shortage of land in Srinagar city, and exorbitant prices, whatever land he would zero in on, would be above much his pay scale. With not much of the tableland available within Srinagar, the people are now moving out of the city or paying huge costs to have spaces within the Srinagar. Bashir was tense and a broker offered him a plot of five marlas (a Kanal is 20 marlas) at a price much lower than the market value. The only problem was that the small piece of land has high-power 132kV power transmission lines running over it.
Left with no choice, Bashir chose to buy that chunk of land. Over the next month, he himself constructed a small shed for his family to live in. Bashir’s shed has sprawling houses around it and, on one side, his shed shares a wall with the graveyard. The graveyard is co-owned by people living in the area as well as many others who live in other different areas.
Bashir’s modest shed under these continuously buzzing transmission lines is a sad reflection of the societal inequalities. His shed is in total contrast to the grandiose structures around him, which give away opulence and lavish lifestyles. “Gareeb insan kyah karrie (What can a poor man do)?” Bashir said, in a sombre voice. He knows that there are risks associated, but he has few options. “I have kids and a wife to take care of. I have to keep a roof over their head.”
During the day he sells fruits in the city outskirts in his auto to feed his family. In the evening, he lives with his family in the shed that is humming with the power wheeling, round the clock.
Abdul Karim is another man. He is a day labourer. Hailing from a remote north Kashmir village, he came to Srinagar with his wife in search of a living. Unable to afford a normal place for rent in the city limits, he finally settled for a room in a building, which also is under a high-power transmission line. The building’s ground floor is in brick and mortar but the first floor, in which Karim has rented a room, is made of tin sheets. This is the reason why the owner charges less from him.
Karim has a somewhat bent back and suffers from severe backache. He said that he cannot go to work every day. “I don’t earn much. I am also not completely fit,” Karim said. “I could not have afforded a room on rent at the normal rates, so I live here.” In the other two rooms, adjacent to Karim’s, there are other families living, also from very modest backgrounds, struggling to make two ends meet.
In another part of the sprawling city, a rich and influential businessman has a line of shops and a go-down running under these transmission lines. Some distance down, he owns a hollow cement block factory, which also has transmission lines running over them. A small corner of the land has some area demarcated for graveyards.
However, not all buy the lands under these high power transmission lines out of love. By and large, it is a compulsion. Since people avoid living under these lines, those in the neighbourhood believe that these small patches would be used by people whose occupations would disrupt their life. So they purchase these patches and keep the tensions away.
“When I bought land for the construction of my house, there was a transmission line running close to the boundary wall of the premises. No one would have bought that piece of land. It was of no use,” one such person, said. One day brokers started saying that a scrap dealer was willing to buy that chunk of land for dumping his scrap. “It would have become a menace. So, I was forced to buy this small patch of land.” He said that he even tried to get his neighbours to buy the land collectively for the purpose of the graveyard. But they did not warm up to the idea. “Then another man stepped in and bought the land for half the price for commercial purposes. He now has constructed rooms under it and given it for rent.” Unlike his neighbours, this man added this patch to his kitchen garden.
The New Trend
While the use of land lying under these transmission lines may vary depending upon the affordability and financial strength of people, those who have financial muscle either buy it for graveyards (whether solely for themselves or jointly along with co-residents) or to create shop-lines and go-downs.
In the last two decades, almost all the new graveyards in Srinagar sprang up under these high power transmission lines. As Malkhah, Srinagar’s sprawling cemetery is literally full after almost half a millennium of use, all the new graveyards are emerging under the power transmission lines. One could easily locate most of them while following a transmission line. This has given rise to new small entrepreneurship under the small brokers take these lands at small costs and make them better after converting them into small graveyards.
Since most of the new constructions are mostly migrations from the Kashmir periphery, these parcels of lands are always in demand for the requirement of graveyards.
Mushtaq (name changed), a land broker, who operates mainly in the HMT, Parimpora, Bemina and Tengpora areas said that they have to see first where the land is available. “If such land is available in affluent colonies where the upper class and the upper-middle-class lives, then it is usually bought by residents for graveyard purposes,” Mushtaq said. “If the area is not so affluent, poor people usually buy it to construct their houses.”
Mushtaq said he recently sold three such plots in the HMT Umarabad area. “They are all well to do people. They bought it for the graveyard,” he said, adding he usually sells the land to people who do not want it for the purpose of living. These kinds of land parcels have few customers. He said that he tries to avoid such kinds of deals because the land is very hard to sell and there isn’t much profit. “If you buy the land, it is very difficult to get rid of it.”
Mushtaq said the people who are able to make constructions are “resourceful” and “well connected”.
Construction otherwise is not allowed. “Minimum requirement is 20 feet away from such lines. That is what the schedule says. Then we take the liberty of pushing the limits and constructing houses close to transmission lines. Many times, even under it,” Mushtaq said. “I recently constructed a house to be sold, which has line not running over, but very close to it. But I am selling that at a very low price.”
He said some people if they have space, construct a garage for their cars, some make kitchen garden under it.
Shabir, another land broker said that those who are financially well off, think ahead of themselves. “Poor people cannot afford to have such a luxury. It is obvious that a poor person would buy that land for himself,” Shabir said, regretting that the social structure oppresses the poor. ”It is dangerous to live under these lines. It can give you shock and can cause shivering to the heart (sic).”
Bilal Fayaz, yet another land broker who has been in the business for more than three decades, said that such problems are usually faced in land-scarce cities and towns. This is not a rural trend. He said that it is a general rule that the rich buy it for graveyards only. “Poor on the other hand think that even if he is able to construct a single room house, he would buy,” He said.
Bilal said he avoids buying land which has transmission lines over it. However, if they buy it, they try to navigate the problem by constructing roads under these lines to link different plots. “That way, most of the land is saved and people are able to do constructions without much problem.”
He said that this was done at Ghazali Abad in the HMT area of Srinagar. The road was constructed along the transmission lines which saved a lot of land from being potentially wasted.
The Transmission Network
Kashmir has a huge high-power transmission network. The 220-kV transmission lines run for 405.6 chain km in Kashmir and the 132-kV lines have a cumulative length of 972.16 ckm.
As per the Indian Standard (Part III), adopted by the Indian Standards Institution on January 19, 1982, the minimum horizontal distance with regard to the 132kV transmission line should be 2.9 metres while the vertical distance should be 3.7 metres. Similarly, for 220kV, the minimum horizontal distance should be 3.8 metres while the minimum vertical distance should be 5.5 metres. For 400kV, the minimum horizontal distance should be 5.6 metres and the minimum vertical distance should be 7.3 metres.
A senior official in the power department said that for every voltage level, the minimum horizontal and vertical clearance has been specified.
“When we talk about Low Tension wires, its vertical clearance is 13 feet while horizontal clearance is 4 feet. It doesn’t require much land under it. As the voltage progressively increases, the horizontal and the vertical clearance also increases.”
He said so far as the 132kV line is concerned, we consider 25 feet area from it as unsafe. “As per rule, we can do construction, but then people here rarely tend to follow the guidelines. Sooner or later, they breach the guidelines and engage in extensions which have the potential to cause harm or damage,” he regretted. “For example, I have to construct a house 25 feet away from the tower. I can construct the house in the lesser distance but vertically, I can tomorrow, for the sake of argument, raise a rod or a bamboo stick from my rooftop which can cause damage to both life as well as property. That is why we normally, try to avoid any construction because if any accident happens tomorrow, we are held liable.”
The official said when the towers are commissioned, the land which falls under the transmission towers is bought while the lands over which the lines run are usually compensated. Usually, it is over agricultural fields. They are compensated for the crop during construction for the standing trees and crops if any.”
Regarding the notion of it being a health hazard, the official that it has not been proved that it is hazardous. “They are certain hypotheses, some of which say there are effects of these radiations on human health, while certain others say it is not harmful.” He said that the opinion is divided on it.
A senior engineer from the transmission corporation, however, said that the high power transmission lines are too high and safe. “The fact is that the low power distribution circuits like 33-kV and 11-kV are more hazardous because they run on poles and are not high enough,” the engineer said. “Unlike the high power transmission lines, these lack adequate protections.”
Dr Tariq, who is a radiotherapist at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura, said that although, they deal with electromagnetic radiations, “Those which are ionized, high energy radiations, could cause damage and have an adverse effect on the health of people.”
Rays such as Gamma rays, X-rays and high energy UV rays fall under ionized, high-energy radiations. While as lower energy Ultra Violet rays, visible light, infra-red waves, microwaves and radio waves fall under non-ionized radiation.
The electricity system produces an extremely low-frequency electromagnetic field which falls under the non-ionized radiations.
Dr Tariq said that ionized radiations can damage cells as well as DNA. They have that kind of energy range, which can cause damage to the DNA. When the cellular DNA in the body is damaged, it can manifest itself in the form of health effects such as cancer.
“However,” he said, “These electromagnetic radiations that are in the low range, don’t have much energy.”
In other words, they don’t have that much energy, which can cause damage to the body. However, if somebody is a heart patient and has a pacemaker installed. If he is living extremely close to the transmission lines, it can mess up and cause a failure of his pacemaker.”
The doctor said such patients are also usually instructed not to keep phones close to the pacemakers as well. “Because electromagnetic radiations are produced, they are advised to keep away from such things or gadgets,” he said. “Otherwise, there is not much significant health hazard, scientifically speaking.”
For any radiation to cause serious health risks, it must cause cellular damage. There are studies which have shown that these do not cause cellular damage except if gets a current.”
Many people use the land under transmission towers and lines as kitchen gardens. Professor Bashir Ahmad Allaie from Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology (SKUAST) said that no proper studies have been available with regard to the phenomenon.
“However, we can say that people can do agricultural practices wherever they have good provision of height. What negative impact can it have, we don’t have much data,” he said. “If the height of transmission lines is enough, and there is enough room to move around, people can do any agriculture practice. If everything is set right, and production technologies used properly, they will have no impact whatsoever.”