February 21, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Chindu Sreedharan

And finally, we in Kashmir have reached the Dark Ages!

Not many of us in this land of few truths, half-truths and no truths can tell you with certainty when precisely we made it here. But our educated guess is that it was some time in the wee hours of Sunday, February 18.

That, you see, was when people like yours truly noticed one of the lamps of Modern Age, Edison's bright child, burn out with nary a flicker.

"Not to worry," we consoled ourselves. "The power will be back in the morning."

But it wasn't. Not in six hours, not in 12. Not even in 24!

So we called up the authorities concerned. They assured us, yes, sir, indeed, you really have completed your journey back in time!

To tell you the truth, now that we are here, we don't feel any great sense of achievement. Maybe that is because we have been hovering near its periphery for many winters now.

For instance, by Saturday, we had managed to attain, daily, over 12 hours of darkness. It is true that we were nearer our goal between November and the first week of February -- during those months, if our memory is correct, we had managed 15 whole hours of darkness!

Authorities say that we should thank the militants for speeding up our journey. "They blasted our 220 KV Kishenpore-Pampore transmission line," they tell us. "It is completely down."

How long, we inquire of Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Department Secretary Ajith Kumar, can we remain here in the Dark Age: how long before repairs?

"The Emergency Restoration System [equipment belonging to the Power Grid Corporation] has arrived on the site," he replies. "It will take about 4-5 days for temporary restoration, that is about 6-7 hours of power a day."

And permanent restoration? Oh, that means rebuilding the tower, which would take "two months".

By the way, did we mention that we had completed our journey back in time? Well, that's not fully correct.

There is one last leg remaining, a mile more to go. As of now we have an hour of brightness to conquer; they beam at us, every 17 hours, 60 minutes of bijli, those spoilsport authorities!

We approach a source in the power department to investigate this bottleneck. The culprits, he tells us, are the two electricity projects in the valley, the state-owned Lower Jhelum Hydel Project, Baramulla, and the National Hydro Power Corporation-run Hydel Powerhouse, Uri.

"The total requirement of power during peak hours in the valley alone is 700 MW," he tells us. "Ninety-five per cent of this comes from the Northern Grid, through the blasted 220 KV transmission tower.

"The source for the two projects in the valley is the same, River Jhelum," he continues. "Together these have the capacity to produce 585 MW, if there is 7,500 cusecs of water flowing. Right now, there is just 600 cusecs in the river, which means that we generate just 50 MW."

Of this, about 30 MW is taken up by essential services -- hospitals, security areas, radio and television stations, VIPs, Raj Bhavan... And the remaining 20 MW is the cause for our trouble, this one whole hour of irritation.

All in Kashmir, however, are not glad about our achievement. Some, in fact, are downright unhappy -- imagine!

They say the blast was "government-inspired". Thus goes their reasoning:

"The state owes the Northern Grid nearly Rs 1,000 crores," they say. "Now that all VIPs and bureaucrats are in Jammu, the government is trying to save money by shutting down the supply to the Valley."

"Also," some of this group allege, "they are utilising that power for Jammu. People there must be having a field day, with fewer power-cuts!"

We approach Ajith Kumar with these allegations. Not true, he says, the government hasn't done any such thing. The blast was by militants, all right.

"And the electricity is not being diverted to Jammu," he assures us.

We must mention here that certain others have received the news with resignation. So sigh those poor devils:

"This is the fate of the Kashmiris! The Almighty must be punishing us for our sins!"

Our talks with the power people, meanwhile, educate us on another thing: besides the now-blasted tower, there was another one, "the 132 KV CSTL Udhampur-Srinagar double-circuit line", that was capable of spoiling our fun here -- luckily, that too is down.

"It had two lines, each of 80 MW capacity," someone reliable tells us. "One of the lines passes through the Banihal tunnel. Since the last three years, that part of the line is faulty.

"The repairs would cost the government a few lakhs, a firm from Calcutta had to come and do it, but nobody has bothered about it. Had that been functional, we could at least have got 60 MW -- its capacity has gone down over the years -- of power to the valley.

"Then, the second line. It used to bring us some power. Around February 12, it was blasted near the 220 KV tower. It is not yet repaired... Which means that for the last week, we were relying entirely on the 220 KV tower, which too had been damaged in the initial blast."

Our source, one of those unhappy people around, has a question for the government: Since the Valley, after the first blast, was depending solely on one line, wasn't it obligatory for government to ensure it was safeguarded? Why did it not?

We took his question to an officer in the security apparatus here. "Not possible," he said. "Ensuring such safeguards with the available manpower would mean that we stretch our forces thinly all the way down from Jammu. We can't do that since that would make them move vulnerable to militant attacks."

Good thing, that, we tell ourselves -- or we would never have arrived.

"Why don't they start using the gas turbines?" demanded our initial source. "We have two gas turbines in Pampore, don't we?"

We do? "Of course," he answered. "They are not starting it because it is expensive! But this is not the time to look at expenses. This is a crisis, which was what it was constructed for!

"Those GTs could have given us 100 MW at least! But they have not been used for so long that it will take at least 3-4 days to start now."

Before we sign off, one thing: we get the impression that you, dear readers, you of the yonderworld, take us for unfortunate beings. Don't.

Our heaters don't work, true. So what? We have bukharis, our age-old wood-burning stoves. And our geysers heat no water. But cool, all that cold water can do is numb us, and we are numb anyway. As for the electric lamps in our houses, that too is all right...

We are creatures of darkness, we in Kashmir.

Illustration & Design: Uttam Ghosh

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