By Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Since the past one year, I have written extensively on the newly established Samba –Amargarh transmission line, a project dogged by controversies, corruption and environmental issues. The Samba- Amargarh transmission line is a 440 KV Double Circuit (DC) line that passes through an alternate route via Poonch and Rajouri. In the past, the route was not explored for power transmission and distribution due to technical and environmental reasons. The project, in contention, was commissioned in summer this year. The new transmission line passes through the districts of Samba , Jammu , Reasi , Rajouri , Poonch , Shopian , Pulwama, Budgam and, finally culminates at Amargarh village of Baramulla district.
Samba already is connected with national grid located at Jallandhar. The aim of laying this huge transmission line, according to the J&K Government, was to “mitigate” the damages that lead to frequent breakdown of Kishenpur – Wagoora 400 KV DC, Kishanpur- Pampore 220 KV DC and Udhampur – Pampore 132 KV DC.
Work on the Samba- Amargarh transmission line began around 2014 under the Build Own Operate and Transfer Model (BOOT). In August 2018 , the project was finally commissioned, two months before the exact date of its commissioning.
M/S Sterlite Power was allotted the contract through its subsidiary M/S Northern Region Strengthening Scheme (NRSS XXIX).The firm has invested thousands of crores on the project and for thirty five years all the income generated on account of transmission and distribution will go to Sterlite power. Lots of damage has been caused to forests in Pir Panjaal during the laying of transmission lines and erection of huge towers deep inside forests and mountain tops. In addition , hundreds of acres of apple orchards have also been damaged especially in the upper reaches of Budgam district.
The Rural Electrification Transmission Projects Corporation Ltd (RETPCL), a subsidiary of the Ministry of Power, Government of India is the tendering agency for the project. For purposes of accomplishment of the project , transmission lines were carried through forests, wild life sanctuaries and a large chunk of private propriety having well established apple , pear , walnut orchards plus agricultural land besides land carrying various species of non-fruit bearing trees like Polulars , Willows, Kikar and so on.
While the environmental costs are obvious, farmers are still struggling to get fair compensation from the company. The power transmission company , as per sources, has apparently paid Rs 46 crores to the J&K Government for the damages caused to forests. This amount is very meager and warrants a thorough assessment.
The government and the transmission company have been claiming that Samba Amargarh transmission line will ensure safe transmission and distribution of power through an alternate route (PirPanjaal). As far as I have studied various reports on this project, the Pir Panjaal route is Pir ki Gali which is more dangerous than Banihal. Initially in 2011 and 2012, clearance was not given the by Government of India to this project on account of loose rocks in this particular area. Inspite of this, the contract was finally allotted in 2014 setting aside 2011 and 2012 reports. Here is what the Government and Power transmission company have claimed(The following statement is copy pasted by several official websites of the Government and private power transmission companies )
“Presently the power supply to the valley is through Kishenpur – Wagoora 400 kV D/c, Kishanpur- Pampore 220 kV D/c and Udhampur – Pampore 132 kV D/c. Kishanpuris under construction. All the existing and under construction line are rooted through Udhampur – Batote – Banihal – Pir Panjal pass.The common corridor of the transmission line is highly prone to snow storm, landslides and other natural calamities making power supply to the Kashmir valley vulnerable. There was a complete collapse of power supply to Kashmir valley on 6th and 7th Jan 2012 due to heavy snowfall and breakdown/tripping of all three existing links between Jammu region and Kashmir valley. Further, power supply to Jammu and Kashmir is basically through 400/220 KV Kishanpur substation and there is an immediate need for providing an alternate route for transfer of power from Jammu region to Kashmir valley. Further, to need the high load growth anticipated in northern part of Kashmir and to cater to projected loads, a 400/220 kV substation at Amargarh in North Kashmir area is required. Accordingly to mitigate above constraints present scheme has been proposed “
I am of the firm belief that the transmission towers erected in Pir Panjal Mountains from Samba to Amargarh via Pir ki Gali are not safe due to loose mountain rocks and huge snowfall in the area. This can be authenticated by those who have recently travelled on the Mughal road. Will the 440 KV DC transmission towers be safe in the Pir Panjaal mountains during peak snowfall in the future ?
The 440 KV DC line has already been made operational in August this year on the eve of Eid. The locals have been claiming that transmission line is making a lot of noise and is causing health hazards. In this regard, the J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) also took cognizance of a complaint filed by Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. A report has been sought from DC Budgam and Chief Engineer System and Operations J&K. I believe situation has not at all changed even after axing and uprooting of more than 45,000 Forest trees in the Pir Panjaal forests and damaging more than 30,000 fruit trees plus causing huge damage to Hirpora wildlife reserve. We are still facing the same challenge(s) that we faced in past and , more recently in 2012. The fresh heavy snowfall led to a complete breakdown of power in Kashmir valley. If the newly commissioned 440 KV DC transmission line has been made operational, why hasn’t it helped to mitigate the damages caused to transmission line on the old Banihal sector? Can the Government respond? Will the Chief Engineer, Systems and Operations , J&K, speak up ?
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