Basim Amin Bazaz comments on the dismal power situation of the state
IN A state where majority of people, for a good part of every year, remain plunged in the depths of darkness, power theft indeed comes across as an intriguing issue. It’s a chronic problem of sorts. Even after decades it is there; unscathed and undefeated. In fact, the very nature of this act of stealing electricity from service lines – either by bypassing the meters or by tampering with them – remains contentious. Some strictly believe that it is unethical and unjustified. The say it is a theft like any other. Others say they are well within their rights to just take it because the power utilities owe it to them. While people say they steal power because the operating voltage is low, the power department says the voltage is low because the people steal! A deadlock with no apparent resolutions.
Kashmir has always had a tremendous potential for generation of power, but as we all know only a fraction of it is tapped. Thanks to our poor economical condition, the funds required to build power generation projects are not available. (Mind you, the funds to beautify Jehlum and to build Gondola over Dal Lake are.) To add to the miseries, even the amount that is generated is not available to the people for use. A major chunk of it goes outside, either to repay the money owed or to honour a treaty that was signed at the time of commissioning the projects. All the same, we see only a diminishingly small fraction of what is generated. That our needs are far more than what is left for use has resulted in incessant power cuts.
In a situation like this, the illegal tapping of power from the lines, has proven to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Not only does it lessen the already diminishing resources of insufficient power, it amplifies the irregularities in power distribution. When you suck power from a service line (whether legally or illegally, whether intentionally or unintentionally), you disturb the balance in a number of ways. If your neighbors do the same as well, you are likely to breach the capacity of your local transformer, and thereby damage it. We all know how painful a damaged transformer can be but we never realize it is us who make it so painful. By drawing extra power, you also make sure that the bulbs of your neighbor go dimmer. When your neighbors do the same, you collectively make the bulbs of your neighboring locality as a whole go dimmer. Hence the extra low voltages that are encountered. Even if you pay for the extra power you use, there is an ethical string attached that deters you. Using it without paying for it, amounts to a scandal then.
Improving the power scenario of the state will be one of the most significant challenges for the current government and the subsequent ones to come. However, I strongly believe that without an active support from people, no lasting solution to the problem can be achieved. We must understand that the only way to get out of this mess is to have a proper metering for every single home – no conditions applying. I don’t see a reason why people should use electricity at will but hide behind excuses when it comes to paying. Just like buying any other commodity, you need to buy power. Unfortunately, in Kashmir it is out of fashion.
We have become used to freebies so much that we have forgotten the term called payment. Why don’t other states have a power curse like we do? Partly because they are better off economically than us, yes. But definitely because nowhere will you find people using power for free. Having said this, there is always that fraction of people who just cannot pay for it. Who don’t have the means? For them the government needs to step forward and introduce some kind of a subsidy like you have on rice and wheat. But metering has to be made mandatory for each and every household.
Guaranteed, the benefits will be visible immediately. When meters were installed at a posh locality in Srinagar, the duration of the power cuts dropped miraculously. From over nine hours a day to less than one hour. Surprisingly, the power consumption of the locality also dropped. The same locality that had been consuming 2 Mega Watts of power for only 15 hours per day, began using as little as 1 Mega Watt for the whole of 24 hours! All this at an impeccable voltage of around 220V.
As of now, an unconditional metering remains the only viable solution. Although the Power Development Department had actively taken up the installation of meters two to three years ago, the lack of uniformity in commissioning them has left a lot to be desired. While some areas of the city have had meters installed for well over three years now and enjoy an almost uninterrupted supply of power, some areas have not even had a formal introduction with this little-guy. I happen to live at a place which falls exactly on the dividing line. They installed meters outside our doors two years ago. They knock on our doors every month to collect the bills. However the much hyped 24 hours supply remains elusive. What this has meant is that we pay for the power but don’t get it for adequate duration, or at desirable voltage. Issues like this have always acted as dampeners. This is why this transitory phase punctuated by ‘meters installed at some places and not at others’ is going to be difficult. It will definitely mean trouble for some but once we see this phase through, the fruits will be there to pluck. There is also this wide belief among people that the digital power meters installed do not work correctly on low voltages. Considering that it is true and that the voltage seldom reaches the desired 220V, it can safely be assumed that the meters never give a correct reading; that the installation of meters has all gone in vain; that it will hardly result in the outcome we desire. This is something that the Power Department will have to take into account if any of this has to make any sense.
Recently Greater Kashmir published a news item about unraveling a power theft of 30 KW. The PDD promised action against the defaulter and the officials involved.
Ironically the last time I heard a consumer being blamed for power theft, it turned out that he was the most honest man of the locality, who would use candles to search for the bulbs but not use a transformer. I seriously doubt the efficacy of this move – nabbing someone and then shouting from the roof tops. Unless there is a concerted and candid effort to curb all such instances, these isolated hyped success stories are not going to do any good. I mean, pretty surely the man did not become a 30 KW stealer overnight. He would have started with a 1 KW, then 2, then 20 and ultimately where he was snared up. Where were the authorities when he started? How did it go unnoticed so far? What about millions of other instances of power theft that go unpunished, not necessarily unseen?
There is a need to create an environment where people first of all know that yes, stealing power is a shame; where they believe that the yardstick is the same for everyone without any purple patches; where action against the defaulters is guaranteed; where the ones who don’t steal believe that their candor is no foolishness. We are way beyond the point where making an example out of an isolated 30KW stealer is going to deter people out of power theft. We need much more; a relentless drive. Not merely by the power department and the government but collectively by each and every person who wants to benefit from it. We need to curb this menace once for all. If not, the darkness will continue to loom; forever.