IT IS the most unlikely issue that could tip Kashmir into a fresh spell of unrest, but the growing disaffection with the raw deal over power is silently becoming the central political issue in Jammu & Kashmir.

Apart from the separatists, mainstream political parties increasingly see in the issue a compensatory alternative grievance that effortlessly relates them to the people of the state.

Dark age In the issue dated 27 August 2011, Tehelka had exposed the unfair power deals signed with NHPC .The state government used to bear the brunt of the energy-starved people’s resentment but now there’s a new target: the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC).

The NHPC has emerged as the villain of the piece after its guards belonging to the Central Industrial Security Force killed Altaf Ahmad Sood, a Class XI student, and injured two others outside its Uri project on 2 January. They were part of a 500- strong crowd demanding electricity.

The killing and its circumstances couldn’t have been more symbolic of Kashmir’s lingering power woes and its attendant politics. It added to the simmering public anger in the Valley where the NHPC is increasingly being seen as the usurper of the state’s water resources, with Power Minister Taj Mohiuddin even equating the corporation with the East India Company.

Of its generation capacity of 5,295 MW, the NHPC draws a lion’s share (1,680 MW) from J&K. Among the corporation’s 11 upcoming projects, four will be in the state: Uri-II (280 MW), Kishenganga (330 MW), Nimo Bazgo (45 MW) and Chutak (44 MW).

Over the years, the state has built up a deep sense of victimhood around its inability to meet its power needs, a problem that traces its genesis to the Indus Water Treaty. The treaty gave Pakistan exclusive rights over J&K’s three rivers, Jhelum, Chenab and Indus, while India got the right for the exclusive use of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.

Under the treaty, J&K can build only run-of-the-river projects to fulfil its energy needs. But even here, the need for massive investment left the state with little option but to seek outside help. However, the Centre refused to give counter-guarantees for J&K’s bid to seek foreign funds.

So, J&K signed deals with the NHPC to build power projects. However, the state gets just 12 percent free power as royalty, which works out to as little as 200 MWat peak time. J&K’s peak power generation is 780 MW while its demand is 2,150 MW in summer and 2,300 MW in winter. This has rendered J&K a perennially power-deficient state with the situation getting more desperate in winter.

How is the NHPC responsible for this state of affairs? There are concerns, the first of which pertain to the 690 MWSalal project. The state government says the original agreement signed in 1975 required the NHPC to transfer ownership of the project at a depreciated cost at a suitable time in accordance with J&K Electric Supplies Act, 1971.

Similarly, in case of the Uri project, the government says the NHPC has to transfer it to the state as per agreement. In fact, the government has already announced its decision to “take back” Salal and Uri projects from the NHPC on the payment of Rs 6,161 crore ( Rs 2,100 crore for Uri and Rs 4,066 crore for Salal).

Generally, the NHPC gives 50 percent of the power generated as royalty to the states. Jammu & Kashmir’s share is only 12 percent

Both Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Mohiuddin have gone public over the issue. The government has also constituted a Cabinet sub-committee to examine how to take the projects back. The report will be considered by the state Cabinet before the government makes a formal demand. “Let the Cabinet deliberate on the report before the government proceeds on the matter,” Omar said at a recent function.

But immediately after Omar’s statement, NHPC Chairman and Managing Director ABL Srivastava made it clear that the corporation has no plans to return the projects. “As of now, there is no proposal to give back power stations that the NHPC is operating in J&K,” he told a news channel. Mohiuddin shot back that the NHPC was “bound to return the projects” as per its agreements with the state.

However, NHPC’s J&K executive officer Jitendra Singh says that it was not appropriate for the J&K government and politicians to blame the NHPC for the state’s power woes. “The NHPC is a government department. All the power agreements were signed between the state government and the Union power ministry.

The NHPC will do what the power ministry wants it to do,” says Singh. He said the corporation has started paying water tax to J&K after the power ministry accepted the state government’s demand on this account.

In 2010, the Assembly passed the J&K Water Resources (Regulation and Management) Act, laying down that companies running hydro projects pay for the water they use to generate power. “If the power ministry wants us to give 25 percent free power to the state, we will,” says Singh.

Adding a new dimension to this contentious debate is that the state government does not have the documents pertaining to these agreements. Ironically in the case of Salal, the original agreement signed in 1975 with apparently a “good deal” for J&K was subsequently revisited by the subsequent government and redrafted.

“The terms and conditions for execution of the project and its transfer to J&K were changed in 1985,” Mohiuddin recently revealed. However, the state government says there is no memorandum of understanding with the NHPC on three major projects — Salal, Dulhasti and Uri-I.

There are other reasons for unease. “Most of the NHPC projects in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Himachal and Uttarakhand are in joint ventures with the respective state governments and the power generated is shared on a 50:50 basis. J&K is the only exception where the NHPC shares only 12 percent of generation as royalty,” says Shakeel Qalander, member of the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), which spearheads a movement for return of the NHPC projects.

“While Himachal and Uttarakhand have become almost power surplus, J&K falls far short of meeting even its basic energy needs.”As a result, a strong popular narrative is playing out against the NHPC, which is tapped into by political parties of all hues. The PDP has built an elaborate political discourse, seeking renegotiation of the agreements.

The party recently filed an RTI, which revealed that the NHPC has generated 47,960 lakh units of electricity in just six months, enough to light up J&K without interruption for more than a year. he NC has been no less aggressive. Earlier, Omar asked his officials to assess the losses to the state as a result of the Indus Water Treaty. His government is also credited with imposing water tax on the NHPC.

The KCSDS holds seminars and meetings to create public awareness about the “power injustice” and seeks a more determined government effort to remedy the situation.

“Together, this has created public antagonism against the NHPC, which sees its total control of power resources in the state as an economic variant of AFSPA,” says Qalander. “The issue is simple. We are a state that exports electricity but purchases power at a huge cost for its own consumption. The logic is so inverted.”