“The irony is that the politicians in Jammu accuse us of power theft.”

Prominent civil society member Shakeel Qalander, tells Saima Bhat that Kashmir Center for Social and Development Studies (KCSDC) wants to sensitize people for the social and economical developments other than political issues.

shakeel-qalanderKL: You have recently filed a petition against the Power Development Department (PDD). What purpose does it serve and will this be just another addition to the long list of petitions?

Shakeel Qalandar (SQ): Perceptions may differ but the truth is people are suffering in Kashmir and the Civil Society understands the hardships. Instead of providing relief to the people the PDD accuses people for power theft. If PDD says they are supplying more power than needed, where is that power going. It’s an irony that the PDD puts the onus of their own incompetence on the common man. The petition puts forth some important points. It emphasizes that curtailments be announced by the state regulatory commission only after taking the people in confidence and zero curtailments in metered areas as had been promised by the state government. Kashmiris are accused (by Jammu based politicians who have said it on record) of all irregularities, thefts, apart from not paying for the electricity tariffs.

KL: Many new power projects have been inaugurated and many more are in the pipeline. How are they going to help a common Kashmiri?

SQ: The power projects functional since the last 66 years have not been of much benefit to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the state run projects don’t generate sufficient power. It’s quite unfortunate that the state run projects generate only 761 MW of power. What is worse that we have to sell half of the Baglihar generation for debt servicing through PTC. Moreover our power generating capacity diminishes during the winters. The NHPC run power projects are of no help, they take away whatever they generate.

KL: As per your petition Kashmir division has lesser households than Jammu still we manage to generate more revenue but the curtailments are harsher here. Why this discrimination?

SQ: Exactly the petition has been filed on this discrimination. The basis to our petition is this discrimination. More power is being used in Jammu and they are paying less. In the last five financial years Kashmir has the revenue realization of 714.76 Crore Rupees in the domestic sector compared to 572.81 Crores in Jammu. Even in the last 7 months (from April 1 to October 31), the domestic consumers in Kashmir have paid Rs 146.12 Crores in comparison to Rs 106.14 Crores by Jammu Consumers. Although Kashmir has more consumers (667541) in the domestic category as compared to Jammu region (608695), yet the average tariff per consumer per month stands at Rs 182.41 in the Valley in comparison to Rs 145.31 in Jammu up to ending October, 2013. The irony is that the politicians in Jammu accuse us of power theft.

KL: Government required 2340 crores in 2012 to buy power but the revenue generated was only around 1400 crores. What means does the state have to generate the deficient amount?

SQ: It has various reasons. The main reason is the Aggregated Technical and Commercial losses (AT&C). It includes the transmission, distribution and other losses. Over the years this losses have increased from 47 percent to 72 percent. The deficient gap has to be filled by the state government. The consumer cannot be blamed for that. Moreover if the state says that there is power theft there should be accountability and strong checking mechanism for that. 40 percent of consumers are still waiting for meters to get installed.

KL: What are you, as the civil society of Kashmir, doing to get the power projects back from NHPC?

SQ: We exposed the NHPC myth. We made people aware that the NHPC is controlling these projects unconstitutionally and illegally. All the projects, including Salal and Sewa-II, are under their illegal control. The land/ property these projects are using have not been leased out or transferred to the corporation as per the laws of the state. Moreover for generation of electricity in our state one need to have prior permission or license as per the J&K Electricity Act but NHPC has not even bothered to get that license as well which means they are doing it unconstitutionally.

There are some projects like the Ratle power project which has been given to a Hyderabad based company with a prerequisite of providing 16 percent power to the state for free. Moreover up to 35 percent will be provided on an amount of 1.44 Rupees per unit. And then entire project will be returned to the state after 35 years.

KL: When Electricity theft issue came into limelight, more powerful people were guilty in Jammu region but so far nobody has been punished. What is your take on it?

SQ: It is everywhere in Jammu and in Kashmir. Whenever people get hold of big guns for thefts politicians and bureaucrats make them get away. If somebody would have been punished it would have created an example of sorts. Still I think Kashmiris are more conscious who pay all their electricity bills.

KL: Suddenly civil society has become active and is taking part in issues other than Human Rights violations. Why this change?

SQ: The name of our civil society group, KCSDC itself indicates that it is for social and economic development other than human rights violations. We want to sensitize people for the social and economical developments other than political issues. We concentrate more on such issues than other political issues.

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