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Reality bites for Mufti vows

Srinagar, Nov. 10: Power to the people was one of the planks on which Mufti Mohammad Sayeed walked to the crown of Kashmir.

He has remained true to his word. In his inaugural speech as chief minister, Mufti said: “Power now belongs to the masses and this would be ensured by giving them electric power for maximum hours during the day.”

Till he took over, Kashmiris had to go without electricity for up to 15 hours a day. Load-shedding during peak consumption hours was unavoidable as residents are dependent on electricity for all the daily chores, from cooking to lighting to heating. The overloaded systems often tripped, resulting in further cuts.

One of Mufti’s first orders was to the power department to “drastically reduce power curtailment and minimise inconvenience to people”. Consumers can now look forward to continuous electric supply with no evening load-shedding for six days a week.

Moulvi Manzoor, chief engineer, electric maintenance and rural electrification, said supply in the Valley has been increased in accordance “with the decision of the government”. “The present improvement in power supply was made possible by drawing additional power from the northern grid and by running the gas turbines during morning and evening peak hours,” he said.

But Mufti’s promise has huge financial implications for the state. When power was available for only a few hours daily to people in the Valley last year, the state had to pay a whopping Rs 1,200 crore — a colossal sum considering the shattered economy — for drawing power from the northern grid. Still, the state owes Rs 600 crore to the Central power utility.

During the six years of his government, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah often found it difficult to pay the wages of the state’s 300,000 employees.

Now that Mufti has limited load-shedding to only four-and-a-half hours across the Valley, the state will have to pay anything between Rs 3,000 to 5,000 crore annually as its power bill.

The chief minister faces bigger problems in fulfiling his more “sensitive” promises, like withdrawal of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act in the state, merging the Special Operations Group (SOG), plagued by allegations of extra-judicial killings, with the police force, releasing thousands of detainees against whom there are no specific cases and including everybody in a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir crisis.

Apart from administrative compulsions, Mufti has to take into account the wishes of his partner-in-government, the Congress. His promises have been included in the common minimum programme (CMP), but their implementation will depend largely on the wishes of the Congress. “Each point of the CMP has a different interpretation, one given by the People’s Democratic Party (Mufti’s outfit) to the people of Kashmir and the other given by the Congress to keep its centrist countrywide agenda intact,” said a Kashmir watcher.

“In this situation, Mufti will have to do a tightrope walk as the other end of the rope he is walking on is tightly held by the Congress,” he added.

The chief minister is keen on diluting the SOG and putting an end “to their excesses against the common people of the state, who are eagerly watching his next step in this direction”. But the Congress is against the disbanding of the elite force, which most agree has been the most effective in the battle against terrorism in the state.

A senior police officer in Jammu confirmed that “ever since the new political dispensation took office in Jammu and Kashmir, the SOG has not been conducting any counter-insurgency operation. They are waiting for orders and, as such, their activities are on hold”.

But sources in Delhi said there was no move to merge the SOG with its parent police force. Instead, the Mufti regime is exploring the possibility of making the force more accountable.

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