Villagers displaced by power project and those living in vicinity watch with despair as its gains don’t reach them
Bandipora: A mammoth dam is almost ready on the Neelum (aka Kishanganga) river in the fragile ecosystems of Gurez and Bandipora in north Kashmir.
The 330-MW power project of the NHPC (National Hydro-Power Corporation) will supply electricity to Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chandigarh.
It will also supply power to Jammu and Kashmir, but where exactly, nobody knows.
Certainly not to the region where the project is situated. Villages here have not even electric lines, and they are not entitled to any share in the electricity generated by the project.
“The Kashmir uprising halted the work on the dam gate as workers from outside (Kashmir) left. Otherwise, the project would have been inaugurated in November 2016,” a senior engineer in NHPC had told Kashmir Reader in August. Now the dam is expected to start work in a couple of months.
Despite witnessing a drastic change to their environment coupled with the ‘forceful’ displacement of the minuscule Dard Shina community, local villagers still had high hopes from the project – of jobs, development, electricity.
Dawar, the main Tehsil of Gurez divsion, is yet to witness any development to make it electrified. Villages here still depend on a few hours of supply by a single generator. Rest of the villages around the tehsil headquarters do not even have electric poles. Surprisingly, the official website of district administration Bandipora makes no mention of the electric officer for Gurez Division.
Chandaji is barely some 10 kilometers from the project site. Residents of this village crave electricity; some wish to “see it before dying”.
The one transformer in this village is rusted and apparently untouched for years. There are no wire connections to it.
Hopes of the at least 150 households in Chandaji were that the project will benefit them, but locals now lament that “our cries go unheard and never get out of these deep woods”.
Several other small villages Veewan, Samthan and Kudhara dream of electricity. Not only electricity, these villages lack basic amenities like roads, water and medical facilities.
Veewan is just a few kilometers uphill from Athwatoo, a declared tourist spot with a population of about 900 souls.
“We have been neglected by the government in every aspect. Our basic necessities like electricity, water and roads, which are our basic right, have been overlooked by every government,” Khan Sarmad of the village said.
“We have to ferry our patients to other villages on our backs or on horses for treatment. We have been doing this since ages. I cannot count how many pregnant women have died on the way,” an elderly villager said.
As if to rub salts in their wounds, the road-less village was offered an ambulance by the government. Locals prefer to call it a “joke”.
Eleven villages in this area have been listed for electrification in the recent DDUGJY scheme (Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana) of the central government that was launched in 2015. But the ₹756-billion scheme to electrify unelectrified villages of India has brought no change to Bandipora.
The 11 villages enlisted in the government’s data app GARV in 2015 remain unelectrified. There is no sign of the electricification work having started either. The villages include Abdullan, Chhandaji, Forest Block, Gund Gul Sheikh, Kilishi Pain, Kudara, Malangam, Manz Gund, Rangipora Veewan, Saradab and Samthan.
Power department officials in Bandipora say they are waiting for the “go order” from higher authorities to start electrification work under DDUJY in four villages — Veewan, Samthan, Kudhara and Chandaji.
Executive Engineer Fazal Rehman said that “we are planning it in Phase I and the allotment for tenders is also in the pipeline.”
The officials said that the NHPC will be contributing nothing to the electrification of these villages. “The NHPC has shown no willingness in this regard,” they said.
It remains unclear to where in Kashmir the power project will deliver power to, as officials have remained tight-lipped on this matter.
Locals have on numerous occasions in the past protested by blocking the construction of the dam and have accused the NHPC of acting like the East India Company. Another complaint is that no jobs have been given to local youths displaced by the project despite being promised so by the power company.