Keeping the light on

As Kashmir continues to reel under unrest from last three months, impacting everyday life, and paralysing the local administration, essential services have stood as a saving grace.

In these testing times services like power, water supply and hospitals have remained functional despite all odds albeit with hiccups.

“We don’t rest, come what may,” said Sheikhul Ayaz Chief Engineer Operations at the Power Development Department (PDD). “Be it curfew, protests or any other problem, our men respond to the call of the hour in every nook and corner.”

Officials concede that at times the situation becomes extremely tough but the “show is managed, somehow”.

The PDD employees have had to face the wrath of protestors and troopers at many places. One of their teams repairing some power lines were attacked by protestors at Budgam. On another occasion at Pampore, some employees of PDD had a narrow escape when they were caught in violent protests.
 
A number of vehicles of PDD have to bear the brunt of agitation and become soft targets in anti-government protests. Window panes of many vehicles have been broken during protests. Mostly the employees have somehow escaped, although some have suffered minor injuries.

“The problem arises when our employees are caught in a place where the protests are going on or where there is strict curfew,” said Ayaz. “It delays our work but we wait and look for alternatives until the work is done. At times an hour’s work takes more than six hours.”

The major problem for PDD during the current agitation period was that the CRPF troopers allegedly damaged transformers and snapped power lines in many localities in Srinagar and Budgam district. It became a big headache for the department and the PDD Chief Engineer had to take up the matter with Divisional Commissioner.

Some of most affected areas, where the CRPF men had allegedly done the damage were Kak Sarai, Zampa Kadal, Shaheed Gunj, Kani Kadal, Eidgah, Batmaloo and Chanapora. At places the troopers allegedly short circuited the electricity wires and the transformers.

According to sources, the entire Chanapora locality was plunged into darkness when troopers delinked the Chanapora Substation from transformers. In Hyderpora, troopers had allegedly thrown a metal rod on HT lines, which snagged the electricity supply and entire area was plunged into darkness.

Most of these areas were hub of intense protests in the last few months. Residents alleged the paramilitary forces were snapping electric supply to punish the residents for protests.

Despite all odds the PDD employees still manage to run the show. During this period of unrest the department officials say they have repaired more than 500 transformers. “People are already suffering on so many counts and we try to ensure that they shouldn’t endure more particularly from our side,” said one employee of PDD. “It is complete public service, even when there is no direction, we volunteer to rectify problems at various places.”

Around 1000 employees of PDD attend to their duties regularly and ensure that electricity is supplied to vital institutions like hospitals and water supply schemes. “Some of us arrive by foot, some on bicycles and some take lifts from passerby while some others put up at the stations to ensure their attendance,” said an employee.
The Public Health Engineering department has also been ensuring that potable water reaches to people.
“We have to work round the clock, we cannot take rest,” said Ghulam Rasool Zargar chief engineer PHE. “Our proof of working is that you get water without a glitch.”

PHE’s six tankers were partially damaged during these months and some of its employees including officers were hurt while discharging their duties. “The window panes of our water tankers were damaged and tyres were punctured too,” said Zargar. “On the ground, our staff finds itself in unfriendly situations every now and then.”

The work of PHE increased manifold after the recent outbreak of gastroenteritis. They had to declare a sort of emergency and its staff had to put in extra work. Teams were deputed to higher reaches of Budgam, Kupwara and Bandipora to know the causes of water contamination and take steps to provide safe drinking water.

“I and my staff continuously attend to duties. I am stopped by people on the roads at many places and at times situation even gets ugly,” said Zargar. “Presently our staff is monitoring water quality, ensuring water tankers reach the needy areas and see that water supply schemes run smoothly and they can’t rest.”
The Municipality is one of the departments which has  been unable to work during the unrest. According to sources the department has also suffered the worst during these times.

“No other department has suffered like ours. All of our vehicles have broken window panes and stone marks. Even our JCB’s are not spared,” said an officer. “We had recently purchased a new vehicle, which unfortunately was completely burned on Dr. Ali Jan road.”

Insiders in Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) say that the situation is frustrating as SMC vehicle curiously act like magnet for protestors.

Officials blame some miscreants around its Achan Garbage dump to have compounded their problems. “A well knit land mafia is thriving there and they have some paid people, whose only work is to destroy the SMC vehicles which come to dump the garbage at our only dumping site,” said an officer. “They want us to relocate the dumping site so that they can develop it as real estate site. These people are taking full advantage of the situation.”

On an average the SMC clears 540 tonnes of garbage from Srinagar city daily. With garbage littering everywhere, most of the waste lies in the streets. “We try our maximum and at times we have cleared thousands of tonnes of garbage on a single working day,” said an officer.

The field staff of SMC also faces problems in reaching to duties as most of them are from far off areas or even from other districts. Now the corporation has issued directives to its employees to reside close to their wards so that they can attend to their duties.

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