Erstwhile JK state across LoC divide is rich in assets; however unresolved conflict has robbed it of its economic potential. The state across the divide has hydro-power potential of around 100,000 Mw, the realization of this potential remains hostage to geopolitical interests of powers that be. Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) is estimated to have more or less 30,000 Mw hydro-power potential as stated by experts. Across LoC, Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK)'s estimated potential is 18,000 Mw, while in Gilgit Baltistan, a separately governed component, the estimate is as high 40,000 Mw—mostly unexploited. In spite of this huge potential across the divide, the erstwhile state continues to be economically deprived and energy starved—victim of unresolved conflict.
In JK state administered by India, there is a continuing effort by vested interests to downplay its hydro-power resources, combined with putting question marks on state's capacity to utilize and manage the known potential of the state. Running down state's potential to harness its own resources is to strategize dependence, a strategy that suits vested interests. The strategy is multi-pronged and includes projecting geological challenges encountered in developing hydro-power resources as a forbidding factor, challenges that state institutions may not be able to overcome, given the meagre technical resources. Apart from projecting technical inadequacies, inadequate financial base is taken to be another forbidding factor. A combination of forbidding factors results in projecting parallel narratives with an aim to let others do what the state may not be geared to perform.
The parallel narratives have had the result of JK state being forced to be weak-kneed to the extent of surrendering 2009 Mw of its hydro-power generation to NHPC, getting 12% royalty in return, and paying around Rs. 4000 crore annually to get additional electricity to meet its energy needs. The energy starvation continues in spite of state having enough to meet its energy need of around 2500 Mw with a peak need of 2800 Mw, as the state has 3220 Mw hydro-power generation (1211 Mw in state sector and 2009 hooked to central grid). With the latest revelation of NHPC in answering right to information (RTI) query of Venkatesh Nayak, a well-known RTI activist working with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) the matter has come to head. In an expanding tale of exploitation, NHPC in compliance of central RTI Act, 2005 has accepted that it earned at least Rs. 194 billion (Rs. 19,431 crores) from the sale of power generated by JK based hydel projects from 2001 to 2015. Of this, JK government had paid Rs. 41 billion (Rs. 4,129 crores) to NHPC to buy 19.7% of the power that was generated by the hydel projects situated in the State. These figures clash with what official sources often relate of the energy bill estimated to be more or less Rs.4000 crores annually. What NHPC states in answer to RTI query might be half the truth, as highlighted in civil society—KCSDS statement.
Whatever the allocation of funds to meet the energy bill, NHPC answer to RTI query confirms the view held by cross section of JK civil society that state is paying for hydro-energy generated from its own waters. And, that is quite a pain felt across the length and breadth of the state, a measure of the extent of exploitation. The plea made in some quarters that other hydro-rich states get a similar royalty–12% may not hold in JK state. The state as such is not like any other state in India. The state has acceded and not merged in Indian Union, a fact confirmed even by former CM—Omar Abdullah on the floor of JK legislative assembly, otherwise a mainstream politician known to toe the Delhi line. As such, what might apply to resources of other states in India may not apply to JK State, as per the terms of temporary accession, which is subject to final resolution. The state thus may be left free to utilize its hydro-power potential by raising funds from whatever sources feasible, including FDI. If Sikkim could be left free to utilize FDI for its Testa-III hydro-electric power project, if Himachal Pradesh could explore World Bank funding, why is JK State being cornered and coerced to depend on NHPC, nothing but NHPC, to be milked as far as the GOI subsidiary may? Even if JK State is taken to be a merged part of federation, still the fact holds that water is a state subject, as such the asset may be utilized as the state may deems fit.
NHPC's plea of commercial interests coming in the way of revealing the correspondence between the corporation and JK State vis-à-vis return of power projects, sought in Venkatesh Nayak's RTI query is meant to put a veil on its unwillingness to return power projects. Earlier Power Minister—Piyush Goyal had cited financial and legal impediments in returning power projects, while answering a query on floor of Lok Sabha. NHPC plea and Piyush Goyal's answer remain a proof of retaining power projects, in spite of agreement on return at depreciated costs. Exploitation thus continues, as energy starvation of JK State grows by the day.