Friday, March 27, 2015

Towards understanding the power budget


The write up presents a bird’s eye view of the power budget and does not go into the details. Though there are important issues which need threadbare discussion and debate, this write up only aims to give the reader an idea about what was presented with a little commentary only about the most pressing issues.

In a “Landmark initiative” by the new government the power budget for 2015-2016 was presented separately from the general budget. As per the finance minister this was done for three reasons. “First, sustainable development of energy resources coupled with reforms in the power sector in a definite time frame.  Second, supply of 24×7 quality, reliable and affordable power to all Domestic, Commercial and Industrial consumers. Third, containment of our fiscal deficit and unleashing of a new era of development”. The intent seems to be good but the execution should match the intent and for that the roadmap needs to be pragmatic. 
 
The budget talks about power sector in terms of Generation, Transmission, distribution and reforms. Let’s look at what is offered in each sector.

Generation:-
For development of hydro power projects the budget envisages making J&K power development corporation (JKPDC), a public company which means that it shall be listed in the market. This shall bring more money and strengthen the corporation. The budget also talks about developing 7500 MW of solar power in Ladakh. Since the electricity produced from solar sources is costly, the budget envisages that this power shall be bundled with cheap hydro and thermal power. The mechanism is already in work in many states and as per recommendations of the central electricity regulatory commission it has to be done. Again the budget talks about a joint venture thermal power project which it wrongly states is in Madhya Pradesh whereas it is actually located in Odisha. The budget only states that preliminary work would be carried out regarding this project which giving any more details. It needs a detailed analysis to conclude whether this project would be fruitful for J&K or would be like many other stations in India which lie idle and are making huge losses since their electricity costs are high. I shall try to delve deep into this in a separate write up.
The state currently has 761.96 MW of aggregate capacity in state sector from all Hydro sources which are being used to meet local demand. The budget doesn’t talk about whether this entire power is made available to the state or some part is sold as well to other states to generate revenue. The budget states that J&K shall have a peak load of 4217 MW in 2021-22 and the PDC has made a roadmap for meeting this requirement. The envisaged 6263 MW which will be generated via 15 projects shall need an investment of 60,000 Crore. The big question remains how will the state manage even 18000 Crore based on 70:30 debt equity ratio when it is already faces severe financial crunch and no major boost to revenue creation is seen in foreseeable future. 
 
The budget figures clearly point out that the central sector-read NHPC- has made huge headways in the generation sector whereas the state has not been able to match the pace and has been a laggard all through over the past many years. Again the budget states that the state government shall seek to enhance the free power from central utilities from the current 12% but this seems to be difficult as it deviates from the recommendations of the CERC which central utilities follow religiously and the central government is unlikely to agree to J&K’s demand for additional free power. Therefore, the additional free power statement seems nothing more than a rhetoric.

The budget also talks about the coal block allocation in Odisha which shall feed the proposed 660MW supercritical thermal power project in Odisha. It argues that it shall be profitable to locate the plant in Odisha vis-à-vis J&K. However, many experts argue that it is wise to buy power from generating stations in northern grid rather than Odisha as the power from Odisha plant shall prove to be very costly compared to what is available in northern grid. Experts estimate that the cost per unit of the Odisha project shall be Rs 5/unit whereas we can buy power at cheaper rates from the northern grid. The location of the plant in a different grid shall again come with transmission hassles as inter-regional transmission capabilities are limited. 


 
 Transmission, Distribution and Reforms

The budget states that “the infrastructure available to meet  the transmission of estimated  demand  at   the   end   of  12th plan  is  not   adequate  enough  in  the State”. The budget rightly points out that in the wake of thrust on generation of more power in the State by undertaking the fresh projects, the transmission systems need to be made capable of handling the evacuation of power to the distribution utility. There will be a gap of 1430  MVA at 220/132 KV level, a gap   of   2029 MVA at 132/66-33kV, a gap of 2539.70MVA at 66-33/11kV and a gap of 3094.36 MVA at 11-6.6/0.4kV  at the end of 12th plan in the transmission capability which needs to be met. 
 
About 9000 MW of capacity addition is under execution in the state out of which around 2100 MW is scheduled to come up by the end of 12th five year plan. The state would have to gear up for evacuation of this power which would need 2500 Crore. Additional transmission lines would be required for evacuation of power from Ladakh from the proposed solar and hydro projects which are due to come up in the region and would require another 10,000 crore. Besides this the vision for “power for all” by 2017 would need an additional investment of 4054 crore. Thus the overall investment in transmission sector is pegged at 16554 (2500 + 10000 + 4054) crore.

The budget clearly points out to a major concern that “the reliability of power supply to Kashmir valley is also a major concern since the power supply is through 220kV & 400kV transmission lines which are passing through same corridor which is highly prone to snow and wind storms”.


The budget also talks about other reforms out of which un-bundling of the department is a big ticket reform. Many people have not appreciated it and a few sections of civil society have opposed it but for improving the health of the department, unbundling is very important as is evident from many examples in other states which have reaped rich benefits after unbundling the power department. The budget also talks about improving the existing HT/LT systems and envisages replacing the rotten poles in high risk areas on priority basis. To solve the problem of transformers getting burnt or other problems in transformers the budget proposes to provide Transformer Bank Funds for strengthening of Transformer Banks. It also talks about setting up of modern workshops and meter testing facilities.

The budget reads that the energy deficit in the state is of the order of 27% and peak power deficit is of the order of 23% which implies that there is energy curtailment of the order of 8 hours in the state, which is source of concern given the harsh climatic conditions in the state. The budget envisages various information technology measures like optic fiber connectivity, electronic billing systems and others which would increase the reliability of supply and all these steps are important and need urgent attention on the ground. 
 
The budget also points out to the losses and states that “against  registered  load  of  2500 MU in  the   state,  the   demand  at   0.5   load demand factor  should not  exceed 1250  MW. But the consumers use  unauthorized load due to  which  unrestricted  demand is  as  high  as 2600  MW which indicate that  actual registered load  should  be   5200   MW”. However, the budget does not project the future demand based on this trend.

As per the experts in the sector the ailing nature of power sector in J&K is mainly because of the inefficient and incapable manpower. People in J&K know very well about the competencies of the personnel in the department. The drawal of power from the grid against the agreed upon schedule which often leads to heavy penalties which the state has to pay is a glaring example of the incompetence of the department. The budget tries to bridge the gap by proposing to set up Chenab Power Management and Training Institute.

The budget also points out to the illegal consumers drawing power which need to be identified, booked and brought under registered consumer category. It states that “as per Census 2010-11, the number of households in the State were 20,15,088 and 17,53,201 households avail electricity. However, 15,72,815 consumers are registered with the PDD ending 2013-14”.

The budget acknowledges that though the per capita electricity consumption in J&K is at par with national average, there is a need to improve it given the harsh climatic conditions in J&K. It’s pertinent to mention that the per capita consumption of electricity in India is very less compared to China and USA and needs to be raised for better standard of living.

As per the budget document, “the Finance department has kept a revenue target of 3508.62 crore for current financial year 2014-15, but actual recovery on account of electricity tariff (including ED) ending February, 2015 is only 1527.67 crore” which indicates that the revenue realization in J&K is very poor. The average cost of power purchase this year up to January, 2015 is Rs 3.78 per kWh (unit). The Department has purchased energy up to January 2015, worth Rs 466.83 crore and Rs 4315.53 crore from JKSPDC and from non-J&K State Generating Companies.

The actual power purchase liability of department is Rs 6266.13 crore. In a single line the budget states that UI/deviation charges are Rs 512.45 crore. The figure should sound alarming as it is only due to the mismanagement of the grid by the grid engineers/operators of the state for which the money has to be paid by the common man. Where hundreds of crores could have been saved, there the state shelves out more than 500 crore as deviation charges. The issue needs to be addressed and the responsible persons need to be held accountable for this colossal loss if power sector is to see some light after years of darkness.

The budget also states that “The non camp temporary installations of Security Forces have been consuming electricity without registered connections. The energy thus consumed by the Security forces goes un-accounted and un-paid”. While the common people of J&K have to pay for their own energy consumption and grid mismanagement by the inefficient staff, the security personnel are enjoying the sweet pie without paying anything. The budget also states that “No realization is made on energy consumed by the Migrant Camps”. One fails to understand that why these settlements are not billed and free electricity is provided to them. Do they serve as vote banks or are there instructions from superior bosses to give them free electricity is a question that the government needs to answer.

(Hakim Iqbal Abdulla is an alumnus of NIT Srinagar and is a power engineer with NTPC based in Surat, Gujarat. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the views of the organisation he works for. The author can be contacted at qbl.hakim@gmail.com)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Roadmap for Power in Jammu and Kashmir


Things don’t change overnight. The need for the hour is a comprehensive power policy envisioning short term and long term plans for the sector


Hakim Iqbal Abdulla


The most talked about subject after politics in Jammu and Kashmir is power. The supply remains highly erratic even in the metered areas and there is little that the hapless people residing in non metered areas can complain about. The fact remains that power sector in Jammu and Kashmir has been looked into with a parochial view point. Like many other sectors this sector too is a victim of short term planning and lack of vision by the policy makers.
Jammu and Kashmir cannot afford to remain as it is and there is much that the new power minister can do. One cannot go on devising short term solutions to the problems as has been done till now. The power minister now needs to develop a comprehensive plan for the department and get it executed. A short term and a long term vision needs to be developed with due considerations about the local climatic conditions and various other factors. Here I enlist a bare minimum which should be done without much delay.
1.      Strengthen Power Development Department:

                                    i.      The power department in Jammu and Kashmir is in shambles. If you visit any office of the department you will get an idea about how ill equipped the department is. Modern day word is empowered by information technology and power department being technologically intensive needs the help of information technology. The distribution engineers need to have systems in place through which they can monitor the grid, local loading conditions and other critical information.

                                    ii.      The engineers in the department need to be properly trained. There have been many changes by the regulatory authority over the last few years and now-a-days new norms are introduced frequently. Under such circumstances there is a great need to train our workforce so that we comply with the regulatory norms and hence save ourselves from the immense financial losses that the violation of these norms attract. These norms also provide incentives for balancing the grid and an efficient distribution engineer can earn/save lakhs by taking corrective action while monitoring the frequency of the grid

                                  iii.      Again the dignity of the executives as well as non executives of the department needs to be restored. Small things like a renovated chair and table many times has a great impact towards a new beginning. The ministry and the higher officials need to own its people and then only shall the ownership come from the gross root workers of the department. Proper orientation sessions help a lot and should be encouraged.

                                  iv.      There should be zero tolerance towards corruption by the department officials. Responsibilities should be fixed and people should be held accountable for their actions. Till the time a wrongdoing is undone by uttering “Sorry” things won’t change. The officer needs to be held accountable for all the duties assigned to him and action should be taken if the officer is found negligent in his duties.

                                    v.      The best talent of the department should go to the place where it is most needed. Punishment postings based on the location of the plant should be avoided. Projects like Baglihar should be made a dream posting for power engineers in J&K and necessary incentives for working in such projects should be paid to attract and retain the best talent. Again only technical persons should be encouraged for the top postings. As pointed earlier, the power business is highly complex and requires deep understanding of the subject for which one needs the work experience of the power plant for a few years at least.

2.      Unbundling of the department: If one does not know about the weak links that affect the department, one cannot present an effective remedy for the ailment. For understanding the diseased part and curing it, the diseased part needs to be first isolated and then cured. The opposition to the plan of unbundling is unfounded. Many sections of the civil society have unfortunately linked that unbundling of the department with NHPC issue. The two issues are poles apart and cannot be compared. Unbundling has to be seen in proper context and the examples of revival of power department after unbundling like the case of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and others need to be studied and relevant inferences need to be drawn. It is a known fact in the entire power sector that unbundling improves the health of all departments and is a proven solution to the problem and hence should be applied to this ailment as well. Otherwise a more plausible solution to the power department needs to be found and implemented if there exists one?

3.      The surveys done by independent agencies rate Jammu and Kashmir as the most favorable destination for installation of solar power plants. The eastern parts of the state are a favorable location for putting up solar power plants and the area has some of the best sites in India in terms of solar plant location. The construction time of solar plants is less and unlike Hydro there are no geological surprises. Again the cost of solar energy has come down considerably and the cost per Megawatt is now comparable with the fossil fuel based power plants although still a bit higher but they prove beneficial in the long term as they neither pollute the environment nor do they require fuel linkages. The solar plants also present a great case for distributed generation. Since transmission and distribution losses in J&K are among the highest in the country (around 60%) the concept of distributed generation can prove to be a panacea for getting rid of such huge losses.

4.      Investment in small Hydro plants with distributed generation needs to be encouraged. This will help us electrify remote villages with uninterrupted power supply and reduce heavy investments in transmission systems. This will be especially useful for the far off mountainous areas where there is availability of water.

5.      Coal based power plant needs to be pursued only after getting fully convinced about the economics of the project. Whether the project is for strengthening the power development corporation or for meeting the demand of the state needs to be analyzed. The transmission charges from Orrisa need to be factored in and they must be compared with the costs needed to buy power from plants located near to J&K. If things are favorable then the construction should start soon for the power problem to end soon.

6.      The Hydro power plants of large capacity shouldn’t be pursued at this stage. The reason being that they require huge investments compared to other generation methods. Besides the geological surprises often extend the target date for commissioning of the projects as has been witnessed not only in J&K but throughout India. The cost per MW for Hydro is close to 8-9 Crore and it will become difficult to fund large hydro projects even at a debt equity ratio of 70:30. However small hydro stations should be encouraged.

7.      The return of power projects from NHPC needs to be pursued vigorously. The losses suffered on account of non transference should be quantified and put in public domain and adequate compensation should be sought from the central government. However all power talks should not, unlike what has been happening, revolve around NHPC issue and the power sector should be visualized in totality.


(Hakim Iqbal Abdulla is an alumnus of NIT Srinagar and is a power engineer with NTPC based in Surat, Gujarat. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the views of the organisation he works for. The author can be contacted at qbl.hakim@gmail.com)


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reforming Our Education System

Towards Reforming Our Education System
Enough is enough. J&K has already waited for long and cannot afford negligence in education sector

On the homepage of the website of the “Directorate of School Education Kashmir” (DSEK) in a bold font with higher word size “Edu News” catches the eye of anyone visiting the website. With a hope that it will at least speak about current education scenario after having browsed every tab I was disheartened to see that the only newsletter it contains, which is unlike any professional newsletter, dates back to 2008. The other day while browsing the Website of Kashmir University I found that under departments tab the first department listed is Arabic and its webpage is still under construction. If the only university in Kashmir can manage such negligence I am sure DSEK must be applauding itself for at least updating its website 7 years ago.

While people in India are talking about reforms in Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 the state of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to make amendments to the archaic JKRTE act 2002. Great hopes were generated in 2013 when everyone talked about JKRTE Amendment act 2013 but till date like many other things the JKRTE act also remains in abeyance.

No education system can be reformed top down but a bottom up approach is needed. Till our school education system does not see massive reform we cannot hope to see places like Kashmir University or similar institutes of higher education to become centers of excellence. Compared to global standards the Indian education system at primary and high school level is below par but compared to most of the Indian states the education system of Kashmir at these levels remains below average.

To reform our education system the following should be considered

1)      An amendment to Jammu and Kashmir Right to Education (JKRTE) act 2002:- The amendment should not be a copy of RTE act 2009 but should be more pragmatic. The suggestions for reforming the RTE act 2009 should be considered like the ones which talk about reforming teacher training system, doing away with reliance on programs like B.Ed among others. All this should have been done at least 5 years prior to this day but now no time should be wasted by the new government to bring about this change as soon as it assumes office.


2)      Ensuring teacher and pupil attendance in schools:- One of the best reform that I saw even in remotest villages of Gujarat was that all schools are equipped with a biometric system. The system only requires a computer and a biometric (finger print) machine. The system is monitored by the education department in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat. It ensures the attendance of both teachers and students and proper entry and exit timing which is the biggest problem in government schools of Kashmir where both attendance and timings are least respected. To ensure that a teacher is present even after punching in the morning, the school can get a call anytime from the office and ask teachers to punch in biometric system thereby ensuring their presence at every time. The attendance of students is monitored as well and low attendance numbers are discussed with the head of the institute. The system is easy to replicate in J&K and will go a long way to built a great culture of respecting time and providing quality education in Kashmir.


3)      Reform in syllabus:- The education system needs to do away with the rote learning activities. The purpose of education should be making students aware about the problems and give them the freedom to design solutions to the problems. There is little room for innovation in our education system. An answer written in words not as shown verbatim by the teacher gets lesser marks even though it may be the same in quality if not more. The syllabus should be designed by giving our students confidence and showing them how the world is growing. The confidence can be instilled by teaching them about great Kashmiri writers, poets, artists and freedom fighters and their contribution towards the society. The major reason why US education system has succeeded for over a century has been the deep seated pride it takes in its education system which is led by innovation.  The students should simultaneously be taught about the latest developments in the field of science and arts in the world and the syllabus should be revised at least every five years.


4)      Engage industry partners and NGO’s:- Private sector in Kashmir remains in shambles but there are a few industries which are flourishing. A model can be created by engaging them and help can also be sought from big corporate houses which have business in Kashmir like IOCL, BPCL, Power grid, NHPC and other companies. Visits to industrial sites if possible should be appreciated. NGO’s can help streamlining the system by giving necessary inputs and engagement with NGO’s has proved beneficial in many states in India.


5)       Make private educational institutions more accountable:- The private education institutes should be made more accountable and they shouldn’t be allowed to charge excessive fees. The private institutes make huge profits under the pretext of education being a social service and thus avoid taxes. The tax payment should be calculated on the revenue that education institutes get and not on other parameters.


These are some of the factors that should be addressed immediately by who so ever assumes the office in the new government in J&K. Until we reform our education system we cannot expect a bright future in the long term.






Thursday, February 19, 2015

Creative Tourism

Chokhi Dhani: Rajasthan replicated in other Indian states

Not long ago the name Rajasthan was synonymous with vast deserts, camel rides, forts and Rajathani Safa-the traditional headgear. For the city dwellers the village life is always appealing and it’s a wish of every city dweller to have an experience of village life. This is especially true among people living in big cities who have never seen a village leave alone the idea of having experienced living there. Not many people knew about the roots of Rajasthani culture and its village life. In 1990, with the aim of preserving and encouraging Rajasthani culture and to make people know about the roots of Rajasthani culture, the foundation of Chokhi Dhani-which literally means a “fine hamlet”, was laid in the outskirts of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Today Chokhi Dhani has 8 sub franchises in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Surat and others giving people the rich experience of an ideal village life in Rajasthan.

Usually located on the outskirts of the city but within a drivable distance from the city-usually within a range of 20-30 Kms from the city is the village of Chokhi Dhani. At the main gate of the village, boys and girls in ethnic dresses combining modernity and rustic life greet the visitors with the beating of the drum. An artificial horse which appears very much like the real one greets a visitor too and many visitors feign to be riding the horse to the shutterbugs in the front. In the most courteous ways are the guests welcomed and I have always been apologized to with utmost respect when I refuse them to mark a Tilak( a colored mark worn by hindus) on my forehead.

As one goes inside the village, one gets a true feel of the real village life. Traditional huts decorated with splendid workmanship present a feeling of splendor untouched by vanity. A complete experience of a prosperous village enthralls the heart of every visitor. Monkeys trained perfectly to obey every order of their master are a treat, especially for the first time visitor.

On the other side women prepare Rotis of Jowar and Makai. The puppet show awaits a visitor when he is done with things like body massage or a true feel of a traditional hair cut by those antique machines we used to have in 90’s. The mastery which the people of Rajasthan have acquired over the art of puppet show leaves a visitor spellbound. The puppets dance in perfect rhythm and play games with each other thereby amusing the visitors.

Camel and horse ride appeals to people especially the ones who are not from Rajasthan. The feel of riding a camel in the rustic environs adds to the beauty of the ride. Then there is traditional Rajasthani folk singing and dancing. Very few people resist the temptation not to sing or dance to the tunes of a humble musical or dance performance. The dance on broken glass or the act of balancing many utensils on the head while dancing is an amazing experience for anybody. It shows how even the most difficult tasks can be mastered and performed with ease. If you are still not filled then hold your heart and be ready for a show of boys dancing only on a rope held by two high bamboo sticks. The skill with which they run and dance on a high rope will leave you thrilled with joy.

No it’s not done yet. After having seen all this they treat you with a traditional Rajasthani food and make sure you are filled completely. The guests sit in large rooms and are served many varieties though the entire food is vegetarian only and may not appeal a Kashmiri. After the food if you still have some time left you may spend it by seeing an astrologer or a magic show. The magic show is another brilliance which people have mastered over a period of time. The magician will tell you that it’s all an illusion but will challenge you to catch him which no one does, at least in my many visits I never saw anyone catching him though infinite number of people tried.

The entire fee for the evening is around Rs 600-700 at most of the locations and all the above mentioned things are inclusive of the price. To mention it again so that no confusion prevails, the food is also included.

PS: The whole purpose of this is to appeal people in Kashmir to start such ventures. It is a great concept and I am sure Kashmir has much more to show to the world. We can showcase our rich art and culture and run successful business out of it provided we remain honest.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Power Sector in J&K? Situation and Solutions

Power Sector in J&K? Situation and Solutions

Power business is no easy business in India. A quarter of a century has passed since power business was liberalized in India, yet there has been little success vis-à-vis the twin objectives of increased generation and efficiency.  To cut it short, the fact remains that power business is difficult both because of intensive technology that is required as well as the risks involved in the business. The Indian power sector has over 5 Lakh crore of outstanding debt and nearly 3 Lakh crore of accumulated losses which increase by about 60000 crore each year.


Within electricity sector Hydro power is perhaps the most risky business. All that is desirable may not always be technically feasible. The moot question remains that with over 16000MW of techno-economically viable projects are we in a position to take up these projects on our own looking at the state of our economy or can we think about other options as well? Considering 70:30 debt to equity ratio we would still require around 35000 crores to develop this capacity and it will take a lot of time.
Jammu and Kashmir needs immediate solutions to its power problem and a long term vision to develop power projects so as to become a power hub and sell electricity to other states or countries. The present situation of power sector is almost similar to what Gujarat faced in 2001. With 2246 crore losses in 2000-01 Gujarat faced similar power shortages like J&K today. Gujarat neither had funds to add generation capacity nor was any private player ready to invest in the state. When Manjula Subramaniam took over as the chairperson of Gujarat State Electricity Board(GSEB) things seemed to be in a disarray. Rather than blaming others Manjula took the task of setting her house in order. She renegotiated power purchase agreements, renegotiated interest on loans convincing banks to lower the interest rates which where earlier negotiated at 18%, unbundled the sector to identify the weak points and employed a consultant to look into employee morale boosting. Today Gujarat is among the few states in India where power sector is making profits. The state has been making profits in power sector uninterruptedly since last nine years.


For short term the J&K state government can do the following

1)      Try to develop the thermal power project in Orrisa as soon as possible for which the coal mine has been allocated already. There has already been a lot of delay regarding this project. The major advantage is that thermal plants take less completion time and electricity cost is cheap. This would end our woes with a few years if execution is done as per industry standards unlike in J&K.

2)      Develop solar parks. As solar is highly location dependent and two independent surveys have put J&K on 1st and 2nd position regarding solar power potential in India, J&K state should identify the most useful sites, earmark the sites for itself and begin producing electricity. Over the years the installation costs of solar have reduced considerably and the cost per MW of electricity is around 6 crore which is cheaper than Hydro in most of the cases.

3)      Plug Transmission and distribution losses. For this the effective utilization of 3115  crore which has been approved by the centre under Restructured Accelerated Power development programme(R-APDRP) is necessary. J&K has the highest Transmission and Distribution(T&D) losses in the country at 59.72%.

4)      Unbundling of power department is a must if loopholes are to be identified and the system set right once for all. The opposition to this by certain people is unfortunate and linking this to return of power projects by some vested interests is unfortunate for the power sector of the state.


In the long term the state government can formulate a plan for being the energy hub which could supply power to other Indian states as well as other countries which are power deficit in our neighborhood.  Once we improve the health of our state power department many investors would feel confident and invest money in Hydro sector and other sectors like wind, solar and geothermal as well all of which hold huge potential in J&K but are rarely talked about. For now let’s talk about what we can do and must do rather than when NHPC will return our projects. Of course that can be talked about as well but not at the cost of the entire power sector in J&K.


http://greaterkashmir.com/news/2015/Feb/6/power-sector-in-j-k-long-term-vision-short-term-solutions-21.asp

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kashmir Flood Story: Myths and Heroes



Ahmad came to Kashmir only a few days back to spend time with his family. Studying in world’s most prestigious university, Standford USA, Ahmad is heartbroken.  As I talk to him he explains about flood situations and how to handle them. He applauds the role of army, NDRF and local people and NGO’s. He is baffled by the statement of chief minister that “100 year events can’t be predicted” and he sites examples where structures are designed for 100 years or even more with “only 2% probability of exceedance”. As I point out to him that warnings were issued from local Masjid’s he again rebuts. Ahmad explains about international standards about how people need to be motivated and warnings need to be given early. He says that events like  random Masjid announcements don’t work and  people must be sensitized properly and convinced about the consequences. He tells me that the first step that could have averted the disaster was that CM could have passed on the information to flood department who could have checked the banks of Jehlum for cuts and breeches. This could have prevented significant damage.
Like Ahmad all people in Kashmir are distressed. Some are cursing their fate whereas others are blaming the administration. But among all this is great hope. Not only the people living in Kashmir but Kashmiri’s across the globe have come up for help in these troubled times. Working professionals, students, businessmen of Kashmiri origin have got together all across the globe and are trying their best to help the people of Kashmir. Many non Kashmiri’s are also working day and night for unknown people back home. Two such heros are Adil and Mubarakh. Adil who hails from Kulgam was one of the first persons to organize a coordinated effort to save his people back home. On hearing about massive floods  on 7th September, Adil contacted his friends in Kashmir on aircel network, which was the only service operational in the valley. He simultaneously organized a massive facebook and twitter campaign seeking whereabouts of people who were trapped. “I compiled a list of affected people and contacted National disaster management force (NDRF) Punjab who directed me to contact Delhi office. On the first day itself I was able to give information of about 30 families to NDRF and Army about the location of people”. I hear Adil & Mubarak being inundated by calls as I talk with them. Adil adds that on second day they received some 3000 calls and made sheets mentioning the complete address of people trapped and forwarded them to NDRF and Army. Adil tells me that his own family is untraceable and he doesn’t know about them but that doesn’t stop him from working with great dedication. He constantly updated his facebook page and gave people hope when there was none. Adil says that now they are working for relief operations. “We have collected 450 blankets, 150 life jackets and medicines as well which we are sending to Kashmir”, Adil adds. Adil says that he will do whatever it takes to help his people back home under these trying circumstances.
Not only Adil but many other Kashmiri’s are also actively involved in rescue and relief mission. “Kashmiri volunteers in Delhi” is one such group. Its core member Arif Ayaz, a noted Kashmiri writer tells me that, “we sent tents, life jackets, medicines, baby-food, chlorine tablets and about 5000 Liters of water”. Arif adds that they have sent boats as well and are working closely with local people on ground who update them about essentials which are of utmost importance. Other people like Faheem Shah of Lex Alliance is working particularly for people who are now in camps. He has already purchased 250 blankets, 500 Dal packs and milk and medicines which he shall be dispatching to Kashmir tomorrow.
Not only in India but Kashmiris across the globe have stepped up to help. Sana Sulatan along with many expatriate Kashmiri’s has been instrumental in raising money in London. Sana tells me that, “We have raised some 10K Pounds and hope to raise more”. She is working in close coordination with local Kashmiri’s associated with relief work in Banglore and Delhi. They are themselves travelling to India on 10 September to better utilize their funds.
Among this great commotion the stories of compassion and selflessness are replete. Gagan Kohli, a local Sikh boy living in Delhi has been compiling the list of people stranded and sending them to Army.
Among all this if there is one thing that repeats itself, it is that Kashmiri’s have not forgotten their long tradition of selfless love and compassion for everyone. In common parlance, it’s called Kashmiriyat.


 @Iqbal ..11Sep 2014

Sunday, August 18, 2013

67th Independence and Kashmir


Sixty seven years have gone by; the world has changed topsy-turvy over these years and so has India. The strenuous and arduous work of freedom fighters finally bore fruit on the jovial night of 15th August. The land was liberated from spiteful and vicious Firangis. The dreams seen by our forefathers bore fruit and the days of reconstruction began. Unanimously leaders and all around spoke of democracy, equality, secularism, freedom of speech, upliftment of poor, non alignment, freedom to raise one’s voice and a whole lot of things that formed the basis of India. No doubt many of these were practiced and it was the sequel of these efforts only that we are seeing the country at a formidable position.
But hold your breath if you are not a partisan and a parochial, the rendezvous with today’s so called success story has not been equitable enough. The visionary statements that applied were not equitable. Sixty seven years down the line the streets of Srinagar still reel under curfew, the mothers don’t get milk for their kids, the pregnant women are not allowed to go to hospitals, and the streets are nothing but secluded deserts of Sahara. Kashmir has always been treated with a different mindset, ideology, set of beliefs and nuances which apply to Kashmir only. Thousands of deaths in Kashmir does not shake the conscious of anyone across a country which claims itself to be comprising of eggheads, boffins and scholars but when a Mufti issues a trivial fatwa in the same region the news runs for no less than two weeks on the so called elite news channels of the country. The fear of protests other states makes Home Minister do the rounds and promise resolution but the killing of innocent people in proven fake encounters doesn’t shake his conscience. Wow how much we brag about Jawans but the same people say that for atrocities their men won’t get justice if tried in Kashmir courts, what does chief of Army mean by statements like this? The yardstick for Kashmir is different and so are the hearts and minds of people living there.
There has always been talking about Kashmir but does anybody even talk of fateful Kashmiri’s. They talk about it in New Delhi, Islamabad, Geneva, New York etc but do they talk about a 12 year boy playing cricket in bright sun and is killed while in cold blood, do they talk about 120 mass graves which get unearthed from a camp site, do they talk about those 12000 boys who have been taken to custody and are missing since then, do they ever talk of my childhood friend who was taken for assisting a search operation and then killed and my sobs still say whether it was his job. Words would fall short if I tell you what happens at a place which you all call bliss and wish to rendezvous with.
It’s a high time now. No government can claim that it does not know what Kashmiris want. The recent incidents in Kishtawar again make it clear that it’s not a valley centric moment only. Much blood has flown down the Jehlum and Chenab valley in these 67 years and earlier as well. The issue needs to be resolved as was promised to Kashmiris. Till then Srinagar will always see black flags being hoisted on this day