How power cuts impact life in Kashmir

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As told to Zenaira Bakhsh

Winters in Kashmir mark the beginning of unpredictable and prolonged electricity cuts. Every winter, the erstwhile Power Development Department (now converted into the Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation) comes up with a load shedding schedule. Currently, electricity in metered areas will be curtailed for four and a half hours whereas non-metered areas will see an additional three hours of curtailment — but this is just on papers. The Kashmir Walla spoke to local residents about their power woes. 

Wamiq Yousuf, Pharmacist from Kani Kadal, Srinagar:

In 2012, my younger brother met with an accident in which his spine was seriously injured and he has been paralysed. Since then, he has been on a ventilator. It is risky for him to be without a ventilator. When he is not on a BiPAP ventilator, he is forced to breathe forcefully on his own. 

The frequent power cuts have caused a lot of problems. I don’t understand what happens to electricity during winters. And even when we have electricity, the voltage is never more than fifty volts. Out of twelve hours a day, we receive electricity only for around four hours. We have kept a generator ready at home because we cannot rely on an inverter, it doesn’t last very long. The government should give us electricity for at least eighteen hours so that we will be able to charge our inverters. Otherwise, even those are useless. These days even the changing of inverter batteries costs around 15,000 rupees. I got it done a few days ago. This process is not just hectic but very expensive as well. 

It isn’t just us who need electricity so often. There are so many other families in our neighbourhood who have patients in their homes and they require electricity. Due to COVID-19, many people have become more and more dependent on BiPAP ventilators. They should at least realise this. And the worst part is that we don’t have a proper schedule. One cannot even be prepared for it because it happens anytime. This used to happen in my childhood. I am a 30-year-old today and something should have changed till now but there is no development at all. 

Saquib Farooq Shawl, Managing Director of Smokehouse cafe:

We have a power cut of more than four hours. To operate properly we need electricity for twenty-four hours. Our entire machinery is dependent on that. So if these power cuts continue so we have an additional cost to pay. We pay approximately 8,000 rupees for our electricity every month despite power cuts. The generator that we have consumes around four liters of diesel an hour, this expense goes to around 40,000 rupees a month just because of these four and a half hours of a power cut.

During the pandemic, we don’t know what our peak or rush hour is and we have to be prepared. If even one table orders a cup of coffee, we need to use the generator. This is a huge loss for us. One day, we had a power cut of six hours and the generator ran out of diesel. We lost about 8,500 rupees because we had a party that ordered eighteen coffees and twelve pizzas and other items but our machinery didn’t work. The electricity department doesn’t give us advance notices for power cuts. This is a nuisance. Even if electricity is privatised, we should get electricity the entire time. And this is the condition of metered areas, the areas that don’t have meters are in a much worse condition. 

I really think that the department is not to be blamed completely. What can they do if the government doesn’t want to give us electricity? Getting a rebate on the electricity bills is our right since we have not worked properly for the past so many months. As a restaurant owner, I demanded a seventy percent rebate but they are only giving me fifty percent of it. Even when I didn’t work for nine months at all but I am still supposed to pay the bills. For someone who wants to establish a new business, this is going to be a huge failure. All the decisions are being made by higher authorities but nothing happens in the public domain. They don’t consider the masses.

Sheikh Mustafa, Student of Journalism from the University of Kashmir:

I am a resident of Lachipora area of Boniyar in Baramulla. We hardly receive electricity for two to three hours. Even during summers, we receive electricity for five to six hours only. We have not been given any proper load shedding schedule. Just a few households in our village have managed to buy inverters or generators, most of us cannot afford them. Students of our village manage to study using candles. Most of the students of my village have shifted to their relative’s homes equipped with inverters or to Srinagar because neither do we have electricity nor do we have proper mobile networks. Since the pandemic, most of us have been able to attend online classes only by trekking to a mountain, eighteen kilometers away.

Since there is no electricity, I am not able to study during the night. I also shifted to Srinagar. I am living in a rented room like many other students in our village. We are neglected by the government even after approaching them for help but obviously, they do not care. For many of us, buying inverters is a huge struggle. Even banks do not give loans easily. It is so hard to convince people for being guarantors. Since the pandemic started, I missed most of my online classes till the time I shifted. Nobody from the electricity department ever visits our village. There is no point in having even inverters in our village. How do we charge our inverters when there is no electricity? The people there do not even know what electricity is.

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