The Power Development Department is installing smart meters for the past few years in the entire union territory, but the target of 100% has not yet been completed. Consumers, on their part, are complaining of exorbitant bills. The Power Development Department admits that faulty billing may be due to faulty readings. There is huge uproar as consumers keep claiming that they are receiving wrong bills. Many a time the department says that it will address the public grievances but the situation remains the same.
Electricity consumption by all domestic consumers generally increases in the months from December to February every year, especially in Kashmir division due to the harsh winter season. The Power Development Department, which is responsible for transmission and distribution of electric power in the union territory, has yet again announced power curtailment across the valley. Kashmir’s powers shortages stem from a host of factors, including inadequate infrastructure, transmission losses, and under-utilisation of resources. Officers and engineers of the department, though, claim that a simple equation of demand and supply explains the valley’s power cuts. It is true for winter when demand goes up and generation goes down.
The valley lacks heavy industries but demand for electricity soars with the use of heating appliances at homes, offices and business establishments to ward off the bitter cold. Our Union Territory is perpetually energy deficient and has to rely on power purchases from Northern Grid to meet its requirements. The state’s power demand increased from 1706 megawatts in 2004-2005 to 4217 Megawatts in 2021-2022. Kashmir valley gets most of its power from Hydel Power Projects but the region’s rivers are at their lowest ebb in winter, so electricity generation is hit badly. The rivers of Jammu and Kashmir have the potential to yield 20,000 Megawatts of power, but only a fraction has been exploited so far.
With the temperature plummeting in the winter season, frequent power cuts throw life out of gear. Power outages make winter unbearable for particularly elderly people. But there is also rampant misuse of power supply. People of the valley use power as if there is no tomorrow. The system gets overloaded as people even use electric heaters in open air. The government has constructed several grid stations across Jammu and Kashmir to enhance transmission and supply capacity, but it is not enough as yet.
“Kangri”, the wicker-covered, charcoal-filled earthen pot, is used for heating in the absence of electricity. The centuries-old heating device finds favour among all classes of society. It has become a barometer of the shortage of power supply in the Union Territory.
Fayaz Ahmad, a Kangri seller near the Deputy Commissioner Office Anantnag, told this author that he has been selling Kangris for the last ten years in this part of the town. This year, as the temperature has already dipped to 3 degrees Celsius, there is brisk sale of kangris. The previous year, he said, mostly lower middle class people and people from rural areas were his customers, but this year his decorated kangris are in demand from upper classes, too. Mukhtar Ahmad Shegojri, who runs a computer shop adjacent to Fayaz Ahmad’s Kangri shop, said that he has to switch to the generator usually in winters due to long curtailments od supply. People from rural areas complain that due to defunct transformers, there is unavailability of power and it affects the education of their children and their normal life.
The honourable LG’s orders to ensure power supply in winter seem to be falling on deaf ears, while many household consumers across the union territory continue to receive inflated electricity bills. The government on its part has directed officers to ensure prompt redress of such complaints.
Amina from Naibasti Khanabal, Anantnag, complained that her electricity connection is under the name of her mother-in-law but for the past few years she has been receiving the tariff bill on her name while her husband’s name has been written wrongly on the bill. Last month she was sent a bill for Rs 75,000/.
The main reason for overload during winters in Kashmir Valley is electricity theft, officially categorised as transmission loss. Many states have made efforts to prevent the theft of electricity by making stringent laws, which provide for punishment. Electricity theft is a criminal offence. It includes non-payment of bill, error in accounting, tapping the lines, damaging or tampering with the meter, and unauthorised use of electricity.
A number of innocent people are defrauded when their electricity is stolen. Urban areas are the hubs of power theft in Kashmir. The joint electricity regulatory commission has revised the power tariff from the third quarter of the current financial year and it has become effective. It is claimed that the tariff is still almost half as compared to states like Haryana and Delhi. The average overall nominal increase over the previous tariff is just 8%.
The tariff has been revised with an aim of providing round-the-clock power supply. It will build the financial health of the power department. The smart metering system is a step towards curbing power thefts. However, there are outstanding dues of several crores of rupees against various government departments in our union territory. This author gives credit to Power Secretary Atul Dulloo, who ensured that many departments deposited the outstanding balance, but yet 100% target has not been achieved in this regard.
The work done by the power department in recent years is remarkable but still there are many miles for it to go before it becomes possible that the common consumer gets 24×7 electricity. It is also the responsibility of the power development department to make a strategy by which the various government departments will pay their outstanding bills, otherwise common consumers will ask, “Who will pay the bill of government departments?”
The writer is In-Charge District Record Room, DC Office Anantnag. [email protected]