Electrifying Developments in J&K

Jammu & Kashmir has been naturally bestowed with great reserves of hydro-electric power, though the development of this sector has been held back until now
Electrifying Developments in J&K
Representational Pic

While the Roshni scam was grabbing headlines everywhere, LG Manoj Sinha was the one who set these high goals. Roshni in the true sense of the word – he wants the brightness of light for everyone in the UT. He has chosen to battle decades of negligence and malice to create a bright future for all of us. With a laser focus on results, LG Manoj Sinha hasn't let the historical baggage of a corrupt dynasty slow progress any more.

In a country where electricity is an essential utility, it's shocking how much power generation and distribution in Jammu and Kashmir has suffered in the last 70 years. Whether because of selfish political reasons, or bureaucratic neglect and plain apathy, there has never been a full realization of the potential of the electricity sector.

Jammu & Kashmir has been naturally bestowed with great reserves of hydro-electric power, though the development of this sector has been held back until now. There have been issues with maintenance and procurement. There have been numerous power crises because of the under-developed electrical system. Fortunately, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi this is all set to change. Just to provide an overview of what this region has to offer now as well as in the future, it would be a good idea to look at two big numbers. Firstly, the power potential identified in Jammu and Kashmir is almost 15,000 MW. The second number is the amount of power that has been harnessed over the past seven decades – that is only about 3500 MW.

J&K UT's projects are now well underway to add 6000 MW in capacity, thanks to the untiring efforts of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha. He has taken it upon himself to create new standards of governance, and the power sector is a big priority for him.

The results are there for everyone to see. Hard facts, irrefutable numbers and positive growth for the good people of Jammu and Kashmir. Here are some metrics that will shed some light on the progress and future plans under Prime Minister Modi's guidance and vision

Hydro generation projects are being brought into the limelight

Three major projects are being fast-tracked to much needed capacity to the electrical power system. These projects are Pakal Dul 1000 MW, Kiru 624 MW, Ratle 850 MW and Kwar 540 MW. Together almost 3000 MW of potential just waiting to be tapped.

For the Ratle project, the cabinet has approved a brand new Joint Venture Company that will be incorporated, bringing together NHPC and JKSPDC at 51% and 49% equity contribution respectively. They will bring to the table huge experience, technical knowhow and a demonstrated history of accomplishments. This Hydro Electric Project will be set up on the river Chenab, in Kishtwar district of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. PM Modi has sanctioned an investment of Rs 5281.94 crores towards this project. In addition, there is a grant by the Union government supporting Jammu and Kashmir to the extent of Rs. 776.44 crores to be used for equity contribution in by JKSPDC in the joint venture. NHPC shall harness its internal resource to meet its equity commitment of Rs 808.14 crores. This is significant, since the equity portion for Jammu and Kashmir being done as a grant from the central government, and the project being structured as a Joint Venture. Therefore, there are important and far-reaching consequences from a developmental and financial perspective that will benefit J&K. For example, the immediate availability of employment opportunities, potential sales of power generation to other states, as well as other developmental benefits in infrastructure, roadways and construction. This equates to a free power provision of around Rs. 5289 crore and Rs.9581 crore to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir respectively, over the duration of project life.

The Pakal Dul and Kiru hydel projects have already commenced construction. The sanctioned amount is Rs 8112 crores and Rs 4287.59 crores respectively. The commissioning of these two projects is also significant, because they will result in a total of 5602.18 MUs of energy being generated for J&K on an annual basis. This project is a showcase of how progress should not be hindered. All necessary clearance had been completed and all related R&R plans have been approved.

In addition, for the Kwar HE project 540 MW, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has provided a number of well-thought exemptions to create an environment that will be conducive to timely progress and completion of the project. These measures are expected to reduce cost and therefore put the project tariff in a position to be commercially viable. These significant actions are in three main areas. Firstly, the waiver for free power, will be available for 10 years and the second is a 10-year waiver on water usage charges. Both of these, combined with an option of reimbursement of applicable taxes such as SGST/ GST or other local taxes, will serve as a catalyst to process the proposal and will also be instrumental in obtaining the necessary investment approval by the Union government so that the project can be executed.

The balance of almost 3300 MW will be made of up of a number projects, the most important of which are the four projects at Kirthai II 930 MW, Sawlakote 1856 MW, Dulhasti Stage II 258 MW and URI-(I) stage II- 240 MW. This gargantuan feat has been made possible by a historic MoU between NHPC and JKPDC at the very beginning of this year. The Kirthai project will be implemented through a JV between NHPC Limited, JKSPDCL and PTC India Ltd with an investment of Rs. 5989.75 Crores. The other three projects will be spearheaded by NHPC on a BOOT basis, with an investment of Rs. 20,317.66 crores, Rs. 1,944.58 crores and Rs. 1348.74 crores at Sawalkot, Uri and Dulhasti projects respectively.

The government has also taken into account that large projects will also need some supplementation to create the push that is required for reforms and progress in the electricity sector. Therefore, there is also a focus on smaller hydro projects to more effectively harness the potential for energy generation in the UT. This includes the 12 MW project at Karnah that is being built at a cost of Rs 123 crores, as well as the 14.1 MW project at Phagla and 10.5 MW at Mohra. The approval and construction of these is also being fast-tracked.

Unbundling the power sector as a reform process

Historically, the power sector has worked as a giant entity, with innumerable departments and sections, each with a complicated reporting structure with unclear standards of profit generation and service delivery. As a result, there was little accountability and almost no incentive to provide good service to the common man in Jammu and Kashmir. The decision to unbundle the departmental structure has been long pending, but due to the swift action by PM Modi, this has finally been done. The structural reform was completed, and the successor corporations were given clear guidelines, along with delivery standards and profit goals. This unbundling will help the power sector in Jammu and Kashmir to shift its focus from a traditional PSU to start functioning as a smart and prudent commercial venture. The enterprise goals will be to focus on sound lines of business, while being consumer centric and providing better supply of energy. As on 1 Nov 2020, these corporations have completed a year of transition and smooth operations, achieving greater levels of responsiveness and an enhanced customer satisfaction experience.

Liquidation of liabilities for power purchase

Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan one of the biggest drains on the public exchequer has been eliminated. In the absence of native power generating, Jammu & Kashmir has historically had a power purchase bill in the region of Rs 6000 to 6500 crores. Due the corrupt legacy of mismanagement, the power recoveries have been Rs 2000 to 2200 crores, thus creating an annual deficit of over Rs 4000 crores. This, over the years had led to a sizable power purchase liability of Jammu and Kashmir towards various CPUs. This in itself was a dangerous financial situation, there was also a significant late payment charge being levied at the rate of 18% per annum.

This was clearly a time to have the balance sheets revived and sanitized in order for the newly formed corporation to have a chance to succeed. Therefor the government of India has provided a loan of Rs 11024.47 crores through the REC and PFC as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan as an infusion of liquidity into the power sector in Jammu and Kashmir. This was done in two tranches, with the first being an MoU for loan of Rs 5500 through the identified financial organizations Power Finance Corporation Ltd. and Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd in October 2020, and the second just a couple of months later in December 2020 with PFC. With the signing of these two MoUs, the entire loan amount of Rs 11024.47 crores was made available. This loan assistance has been crucial in helping Jammu and Kashmir to liquidate its power purchase liabilities as of mid-2020. This financial restructuring along with the resulting differential interest rate has enabled it to save almost Rs 1000 crores which was being squandered away as late payment fees.

Transmission sector and its massive capacity additions

Among the first challenges that the government tackled was the transmission sector, the priority was to upgrade the transmission network on a war footing to strengthen the existing system and create a robust platform for future growth in power requirements. The other goal that went hand-in-hand with this was the capability of improved power evacuation from the existing facilities to improve efficiency and ultimately meet the goal of 24/7 power for the entire UT.

Under the Prime Minister's Development Package, there have been 30 projects sanctioned for this endeavor, with an ambitious completion goal of October 2022. Some of the important projects are:

The augmentation of 220/132 Kv Grid Station at Delina: The Delina GSS provides almost a third of the power to north Kashmir, but even with contribution from LJHP and Zainakote installations, there is currently a 200 MW deficit in the region. The increase in capacity at Delin to 320 MVA is expected to mitigate a major part of that deficit. At an estimated cost of Rs 19.39 crores, the project is on track for completion in early 2020.

The augmentation of 132/33 KV Grid Station at Magam: This installation in Baramulla provides power to places like Gulmarg, Tangmarg and Magam town. The deficit of almost 50MVA made up by augmenting the facility and upgrading to 100MVa at a cost of Rs 3.69 crores has already been completed in Jan 2021 and dedicated to the public.

Construction of 220KV D/C New Wanpoh-Mirbazar Transmission line for evacuation of power from 400/220 kV New Wanpoh. This is a significant upgrade, since the inter-connector is an alternative source of power to the valley. It also provides redundancy in case of faults or failures in the existing Kishenpore-Mirbazar Transmission Line, which has happened numerous times in the past due to unfavorable weather and repairs hampered by tough terrain. The upgrade has been taken up under the Prime Minister's Development Package at an estimated cost of Rs 5.3 crores.

Revival of 132 KV Hiranagar- Battal Manwal Transmission Line Project: The grid station at Battal-Manwal had been created almost a decade ago, but due to issues with clearances and RoW the line was held up. The government pushed for a speedy resolution to enable efficient power evacuation, since this line provides electricity to far flung areas, but more importantly provides power to the Railways also serves to relieve the load on Udhampur grid station.

Distribution sector and its beneficiaries

For years, the villagers living in areas like Keran and Mundian on the LoC were limited to a paltry 3 hours of electricity a day, and that too from relatively unreliable diesel generator sets. These villages have now been connected to the grid and have reassuring power due to the laying of a 33 KV line across 36 kilometers.

The other major projects that have been undertaken under centrally sponsored schemes are many but deserve individual mention. There is a strong focus on strengthening works in the power distribution system, such as creating new distribution transformer and receiving stations, new HT & LT lines under the central schemes of DDUGJY and PMDP that have benefitted over 520 villages in all districts of Jammu. For the people, whether they live in Udhampur, Reasi, Ramban, Jammu, Kathua, Samba, Poonch, Rajouri, Doda or Kishtwar, the government has made a firm commitment to eliminate the issues of low voltage, power cuts and fluctuation by investing in a strong distribution backbone. This is expected to be completed by early 2021 and will create 8 receiving stations, 680 distribution transformers and will entail the installation of 465 kms of HT line and 895 kms of LT line.

In Kashmir, the districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Baramulla, Anantnag and Budgam have benefited from the installation of 7 new 33/11kV receiving stations under various central government schemes. In addition, there has been augmentation in capacity of 14 existing receiving stations that add almost 100 MVA to Sringar, Kulgam and Anantnag districts.

These are just some interesting numbers that are relevant to the distribution sector and demonstrate the central government's efforts to improve the well-being of the common man. They do not to just to the amount of work that is being done at every level – whether it is installation of GIS substations, or over a 1000 DTs or dozens of new receiving stations all over Jammu and Kashmir. All done with the single goal of positive growth and reform in the power distribution sector.

Other reforms in the power sector

Apart from the impressive work done on the infrastructure side – in power generation, transmission and distribution, the reforms have percolated into the entire system. The most important facet to the common man, is the interaction with the power company. To this end, the government has implemented the Bharat Bill Payment System platform, that provides consumers the convenience of paying their electricity bills through their choice of payment modes, and also enabling almost 600 channels across all digital interfaces. More importantly, as a testament to the new customer-centric approach of the power companies, there is now a e-customer care and call center established for both divisions of Jammu and Kashmir that provides services 24/7 to the general public. They handle all billing, complaints, service requests and queries and have been tasked with providing the best possible consumer experience.

Winter power suppy in J&K and the valley

For so many decades, every year during the snowfall season there would be widespread electricity breakdowns across the UT. There would be issues with our major projects, and then even the smaller units would fail. Due to lack of foresight and responsible planning, repair work would take far too long and restoration of power was always unknown.

There have been a number of changes in the past year to alleviate these issues. Additional power supply for the winter of 2020-21 to the extent of over 16% to the Kashmir Valley, with special emphasis on power delivery during peak load hours. As a result of progressive management practices, there is now a ready stock of replacement equipment such as distribution transformers that enable a quick turnaround time in most locations. DT outage has also been drastically reduced due to monitoring of environmental factors. For example, this year there was special emphasis on pruning tree branches that posed a hazard to LT lines and DT installations. This was done on a proactive basis even before the first snowfall.

It's important to note that all these steps have been taken in the past year and a half. Even the obvious requirements of setting up a Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC) and formulate a Standard Safety Manual for JKPDD had not been thought of before this governments efforts.

Clearly LG Manoj Sinha and his team know what they are doing, and have displayed a selfless approach in their willingness to improve the lives of  the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is such a source of joy to see someone working 24/7 for the development of this region. The people of Jammu and Kashmir owe a debt of gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and his fearless leadership, along with the untiring efforts of LG Manoj Sinha.

Emaad Makhdoomi is a social, political and policy commentator

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