As the valley grapples with medieval power cuts once again this early winter, many people have resumed old ways to ward off the bone-numbing cold. But the frequent darkness has only aggravated the already frozen turbulence in Kashmir.
A downtowner doubling as street jester has a new trade tip for his Nowhatta tribe these days.
“I think this winter,” says Rouf Misgar, a broker in his mid-forties, “candles will sell like hot cakes.”
For Misgar, being a candle-seller in a dark and numb Kashmir is a sunshine enterprise.
“And the joke,” the jester says, “is on the so-called ‘Naya Kashmir’.”
Every winter, Kashmiris brace up for frequent power cuts from October itself, when the PDD (Power Development Department) starts electricity curtailment.
But from the early winter this year, the frequent power cuts have already darkened lives of the 8 million people in the valley, and have made many paranoid about the long winter ahead.
“Last year’s early snowfall had literally sent us into the Stone Age,” says Fayaz Ahmed, a Srinagar-based trader.
“Even candles were not available in the ‘Naya Kashmir’ touted for its new developmental era.”
This year, the trader continues, the electricity curtailment has already become a nuisance despite the administration’s assertion: “The valley will witness almost 70 per cent less power curtailment this year.”
Three hours of power cut for metered areas and four hours for non-metered have already heralded the vintage dark nights lit by candles in Kashmir. Unscheduled cuts are only adding insult to injury.
Apart from households and businesses, these uncertain cuts have held the critical healthcare hostage in the valley despite medicos recommending uninterrupted power supply for Covid patients, who need electricity-driven oxygen concentrators.
“If we won’t have alternative power sources for machines, then we’ve to just open our shops for two days in a week,” says Shabir Ahmed, a tailor in Srinagar.
In Shabir’s non-metered Gurpur area, the electricity is cut off for two hours after every four hours, making it up to eight hours of power curtailment in 24 hours.
This drawn and dreadful darkness has already dented the situational-marred trade in Kashmir.
Like other business units in Kashmir, the double lockdowns since August 2019 have mostly rendered Access Printers jobless.
Dealing with printing and publication, this Srinagar-based business unit is trying to cope up, but frequent power cuts are only making it a herculean task.
“Our ten employees are sitting idle, as there’s no electricity right now,” says Farooq Ahmed, a senior employee at Access Printers.
Due to the unscheduled power cuts, the machines also get affected, and “machines here are 125 KV which cannot be backed up by UPS,” he said.
“The alternate power supply costs one thousand rupees of oil and the income is less than that. We pay Rs 50,000 thousand electricity bill every month but the business production suffers due to the unscheduled cuts.”
Hampered Home Work
This winter darkness is equally casting its shadow on some mandatory routines in the Covid era, like work from home.
“At least for four hours in a day, electricity and broadband remain shut,” says Mohammad Taha, a software engineer working for Noida-based organization.
“What can an employee working from home do without electricity? My work depends on power and internet. If the situation remains the same, I might be laid off.”
Even ‘powerless’ streets haunt life in Kashmir these days.
Despite installing thousands of street lights, the administration’s inability to minimize power cuts is enforcing dreadful darkness in Srinagar with sundown.
“After coming back from work in the evening, it’s scary to walk on the dark streets,” says Sadia, a 26-year receptionist working at a medical clinic.
But while the trade heartland of Srinagar Lal Chowk remains mired in darkness, Abdullah Bridge’s decorative lights worth Rs 1.22 crore rarely go off.
Some call it new priorities in ‘new Kashmir’, where millions are craving for light.
What’s PDD Doing?
Already, PDD has supplied 12% more power till November as compared with last year, Rohit Kansal, the Principal Secretary to Government, PDD, said in a tweet.
“Damage rate too is much less than last year… If this is “worst”, don’t understand what is good.”
Because of the Covid-19, said Aijaz Ahmed Dar, Chief Engineer, Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation (KPDC), there’s an unending demand for power supply.
“The PDD department produces 1500 MW (megawatt) electricity whereas demand is way more than what is being currently generated,” says an official. “Earlier the grid capacity was 1250MW only.”
To control the misuse of electricity, inspection teams are conducting searches, seizing cooking and boiler heaters.
Even then, the dark demons continue to haunt the valley.
Farce of Smart Power
Amid all this, New Delhi is installing the smart meters “which will bring transparency and reliable power supply to consumers”.
“Such assurances were given to people in past as well, but the ground situation remains unchanged,” says Misgar, a jester from downtown.
“Power cuts are worse in the countryside, where people often come on the roads to protest against it. The funny thing is, they keep us in dark and thrive on our power.”
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Adil Amin Akhoon is the Managing Editor at The Mountain Ink.