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J&K's water war: why is NHPC being likened to East India Company?

Gowhar Geelani | Updated on: 2 May 2016, 21:14 IST

The label

  • Senior Cong leader Taj Mohiuddin has twice compared the NHPC to the British East India Company
  • He says it is exploiting Kashmir\'s waters the same way the British company was exploiting India

The trouble

  • An RTI reply recently revealed that the NHPC has made a Rs 19,000 crore profit in the last 14 years from Kashmir waters
  • Civil society says it\'s unfair that the power projects aren\'t being returned to the J&K govt

More in the story

  • Isn\'t there an MoU that would prove whether the NHPC is in the wrong?
  • Is the J&K govt power corporation equipped to handle projects?

Many in the Kashmir Valley are once more likening the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to the British East India Company, after it was revealed that it has made a profit of Rs 194 billion (19,000 crore) from Kashmir waters during the last 14 years.

The latest disclosure has only cemented the widely-held belief in the valley that "Kashmir waters are a goldmine for the NHPC", which, in turn, has given more teeth to the civil society voices demanding the return of power projects from the corporation.

The news about the gigantic profits made by the federally-owned corporations ended up as splashy headlines in all major English and Urdu dailies published from Srinagar.

How did the revelation come about? And what does it mean for the newly-installed PDP-BJP coalition government, which is already feeling the heat of the recent crises at Srinagar's National Institute of Technology (NIT) and the killing of five civilians at the hands of the Indian Army and J&K Police in north Kashmir's Handwara and Kupwara towns?

RTI revelation

Venkatesh Nayak, a prominent RTI activist working with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), had reportedly approached the Union Power Ministry and the NHPC to seek copies of the correspondence between the Government of India and the Jammu & Kashmir government, regarding the return of power projects.

While the information on the return of power projects was denied to Nayak, the information with regards to the earnings made by the NHPC was disclosed in response to an RTI application filed by the activist.

"In this context, it is intimated that the issue raised in the application [with regards to the possibility of return of hydropower projects to J&K Govt.] is between the parties, Ministry of Power/NHPC and Government of J&K, which is not yet resolved. Any disclosure of information, at this stage, will affect the commercial interest of NHPC," the hydropower generation company is reported to have replied to Nayak.

The East India Company label

NHPC Limited was incorporated in the year 1975. In Jammu and Kashmir, the NHPC controls the Salal-I, Salal-II, Uri-I, Uri-II, Dul Hasti, Sewa-II, Chutak and Nimmo Bazgo power plants. Besides, another hydropower station, Kishenganga, is under construction, scheduled to be completed by 2016.

According to social activist Shakeel Qalander, the trouble is that original copy of the 1969 MoU signed between Jammu and Kashmir government and the then-Ministry for Water and Energy was lost.

The 'East India Company' label has been applied by senior Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin

In June 2011, senior Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin, then a J&K minister, had claimed to have "discovered the original memorandum signed between the state government and the NHPC, which states that the NHPC would share the generated electric power from the Salal project 50-50 with the Jammu and Kashmir government". J&K has been roughly getting 12% of the power generated from Salal project.

Mohiuddin had said NHPC was akin to the British East India Company, since it was behaving in a similar manner. He had said the NHPC was "draining the state's power resources". He has reiterated the same allegations now that the profit figures have come out.

To annoy NHPC is to annoy New Delhi

Speaking to Catch, activist Qalander said: "Kashmir's civil society has proved beyond doubt that the NHPC's control over the Salal, Uri and Dul Hasti power projects is both illegal and unconstitutional."

Civil society claims that the newest discovery has vindicated its stand in relation to the NHPC's control over Kashmir's power projects.

Suhail Masoodi, director of the Srinagar-based Centre for Research and Development Policy (CRDP), said it requires "strong decision making" on the part of the Jammu and Kashmir government to get back the hydropower projects from the NHPC.

"The big question is whether there is that decision making power and political will. Well, if you ask me, I would say that there is none. Kashmir is a conflict zone and the mainstream political parties generally lack the legitimacy to rule people. Therefore, New Delhi also treats them in the same manner. And any regional party which withstands Delhi ends up annoying it," he said.

The debate, according to Masoodi, is beyond NHPC's capital and the earnings it makes out of Kashmir waters. "The real debate is the NHPC's role in dispossessing Kashmiris, dislocation of local population, snatching of livelihood and destruction caused to ecology. Annoying NHPC means annoying New Delhi, and no local government in J&K can afford that."

Pressure mounting on ruling coalition

According to the 'Agenda for Alliance' agreed upon by the PDP-BJP coalition last year, the development agenda included exploring "modalities for transfer of Dul Hasti and Uri hydro power projects to Jammu & Kashmir as suggested by the Rangarajan Committee Report and the Round Table reports."

The alliance deed, which the PDP refers to as a 'sacred document', also talks about securing "a share in the profits of NHPC emanating from J&K waters to the state government".

Now, with the current disclosure about the profits made by the NHPC, the pressure on the PDP-BJP government is likely to mount further with each passing day.

This is the third big controversy to hit the Mehbooba Mufti govt after NIT and Handwara killings

"The NHPC has not adhered to the provisions of J&K Electricity Act, which makes it necessary to obtain a licence for running power in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the NHPC has earned massive profits while our state has been left high and dry," Qalander said, adding that his civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies(KCSDS) is holding a roundtable conference on the issue early next week.

One of the KCSDS's key demands is "the state government in Jammu and Kashmir should come forward to remove the NHPC's illegal occupation".

Expert opinion differs

Some experts like Iftikhar Drabu, brother of current PDP minister Haseeb Drabu, have been raising doubts whether the Jammu and Kashmir State Power Development Corporation (JKSPDC) is technically well-equipped to run the power projects on its own.

"We are aware that these large hydro projects are located at remote sites. They require experienced and trained staff (please note that am not using the word engineer) which besides engineers includes a large number of trained and experienced technicians and workers. Do we have such a large resource pool available within JKSPDC?" Iftikhar wrote in an article in Greater Kashmir on 12 April.

Masoodi agrees with Drabu on the JKSPDC's "lack of capability".

Experts like Iftikhar Drabu say J&K power corporation isn't equipped to handle projects on its own

However, in response to Iftikhar, veteran columnist Javid Iqbal wrote in the same newspaper on 23 April: "Left to Iftikhar Drabu and his ilk, the surrender of all that is vital to state economy would remain the norm. What a shame, we have protagonists of grabbers of state assets in our midst."

Commenting on this, Qalander said it was less about the JKSPDC's wherewithal and more about legality and rights. "See, the services can be outsourced in any economic project today. That is beside the point. Why is the NHPC operating in Jammu and Kashmir in violation of the laws of the land? That's the main question," he said.

What proponents of azadi say

Mohammad Yasin Malik, chief of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said "India does not want Kashmir to stand on its own feet".

"New Delhi does not want the Kashmir economy to prosper and stand on its own feet. Through companies like NHPC, it earns profits from our waters, and then sells rice to us on subsidy as a favour," Malik told Catch.

First published: 2 May 2016, 21:14 IST
Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He was formerly with Deutsche Welle, Germany.