If you ask people around they will say India is eyeing control of Kashmir’s hydropower resources; power is about the second biggest topic discussed and debated in Kashmir. The former state can produce 20,000 megawatts of hydropower, which could become its main driving force for economic growth, but produces only 3,263 MW at present.

The production of electricity and with this the upliftment of the whole state has been revived in constant debates among the local politicians who demand the return of seven power projects currently under the stewardship of the National Hydro Power Corporation, a Government of India enterprise.

Meanwhile, “The problems we face are humongous,” says a college student who wasn't able to write her exams properly this winter because of the low light and very low temperature. “Winter is a very big problem for us and it pushes Kashmiris to go into hibernation mode for near about three months. The world is changing but we’re still protesting for electricity,” says Bisma Nazir of SP College, Srinagar.

Nazir points out how covid patients who needed electricity to keep running the oxygen machines in homes and to keep warm faced further difficulties. Another student of the same college says, “We can’t even think of studying late at night. We have to be dependent on power wholly and solely.”

A student studying under the candlelight in between the breaks in electricity. These breaks can go for hours

Absent an elected government in Kashmir since 2018, and especially after the Indian parliament abrogated the region’s constitutional status on August 5, 2019, New Delhi has signed special agreements called memorandums of understanding to hand over another five power projects to the NHPC, arousing unease among locals.

In January the Indian government had to reverse a plan to incorporate the region’s power department into the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited after facing protests from local employees, as the region witnessed a major power breakdown amid a drastic cold wave.

Hydropower development in the region goes back to the Indus Waters Treaty, brokered between India and Pakistan by the World Bank to administer the water flowing between the countries of the Indus river and its five tributaries. Per the IWT the eastern tributaries Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are controlled by India while the western Chenab, Jhelum and Indus are controlled by Pakistan.

India has full control over the eastern rivers and can use up to 20% of the water from the western rivers for irrigation, transport and power generation. The popular sentiment of Kashmiris was that hydropower projects should not create water shortage in Pakistan, and this was even backed by the regional politicians.

India’s main push for maximum exploitation of the waters came after the abrogation of Article 370, when the authorities started handing over new power projects with a generation capacity of 4136 MW to the NHPC, says Raja Yaqoob Farooq, managing director of the Jammu Kashmir Power Development Corporation.

“In the last six to eight months, the MoUs we have signed with the NHPC under the guidance of the Prime Minister will pave the way for generating 3500 MW additional power in the next 4-5 years,” said Manoj Sinha, the New Delhi-appointed lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

The IWT gives India the right to generate hydroelectric power on the western rivers, subject to specific standards for design and operation. The treaty also gives the right to Pakistan to raise objections to the design of hydropower projects on the western rivers. In the past, Pakistan has raised strong objections to multiple hydropower projects, such as Baglihar and Kishanganga in Kashmir, over their design. These projects were allowed to go ahead only after modification in their design, and after a delay of many years.

Last August an Indian parliamentary panel recommended renegotiation of the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, reportedly to address the impact of global warming and further develop the irrigation and hydropower potential.