Author: Saadut
•10:50 PM

As if deficiency of effective governance systems were not enough in Kashmir, people are now facing deficiency of domestic energy. For decades people here have been forced to the edge for want of electricity, and now it is LPG. Immediately after the 6 cylinder LPG norm was announced by the Government of India and even before it was to be implemented, LPG refills started to vanish from public domain, people caught unawares.  Right after the 6 cylinder cap announcement, an artificial scarcity was created in the valley and each refill was sold in the black market as high as three times the actual cost, while the government pretended blind. Except the whimper rhetoric that the government doles out in short measures, often aimed at press release consumption, there seemed absolutely no effort on part of the government to address this issue. Since the distribution systems for domestic fuel in Kashmir are bad and unregulated, streamlining such systems for even the 6 cylinder norm will take months, leaving even a stop gap solution in a limbo with winter staring on our face. 

With the 6 cylinder cap closing in, LPG dealers refused to entertain any request for supply of refills even denying legitimate consumers who already had valid and requisite consumer documents, for any LPG delivery. Not only did this point out to the dictatorial attitude of the gas dealers but to the silence of the government pointed to a ‘we care not’ attitude.  While LPG dealers refused supply of cylinder refills, the same were being sold in the black market from 1200 to 1500 each and the administration remained undisturbed by such travesty.

Since domestic energy is not a luxury for households but a necessity, with each passing day more and more refills of domestic LPG were being exhausted across households in the valley and more scarcity was being created. In this growing vacuum, the swelling level of discontent on ground is going unnoticed by the government, but for how long. 

Only last winter protests against electricity supplies had taken a toll on human lives (the promise of justice “Tragic beginning to the New Year. Inexcusable use of force in Uri today… Law will now follow course. No protection under AFSPA will be considered since they (CISF) weren't on counter-insurgency deployment” has neither been implemented by them nor forgotten by us). Then the protests were sporadic since the supply and shortfall of electricity was also unevenly spread over habitations.  But now this LPG scarcity and the government indifference (being uniform) seem to be in for long, having the potential of provoking more of civilian resentment and unrest. 

Notably in late ’80s, Kashmir faced electricity shortages coupled with tariff hike. Then also the state government (NC govt led by Dr. Farooq Abdullah) was accused of indifference forcing people to demonstrate on the roads; the government acted with force resulting in the death of six persons, while scores were injured. These incidents then also added to a greater sense of alienation against the government that was considered to be apathetic.

Consumers in Kashmir heavily depend upon LPG supplies, having since migrated from wood stoves to gas ones (even wood is scarce now). And LPG consumption in Kashmir is high compared to other states in India keeping in view the harsh winters Kashmir has to face. In such a situation the application of 6 cylinders rule would not even suffice one winter in Kashmir. With winters looming and the availability of gas becoming ever elusive, the state may be sleeping to the growing unease on ground to its own peril. 

Fuel is linked to food, either directly via price linkages, inflation or indirectly via affordability and access. And denials / scarcity of fuel or food are known to have started common unrest. Not long ago when people took to the streets in Jordan, fearing the protests may shift the political power balance, its Finance Minister (Mohammad Abu Hammour) promised to ease consumer prices to diffuse the protests. Consumer fuel expenses have become a major part of expenditure for the middle and lower middle class families and any increase (resulting from scarcity of availability or change of state policies) heavily burdens the economic capacity of these households. The impact will be greater for households who live in extreme climate and weak economic areas like Kashmir where dependence on such fuel is higher, not only for daily cooking but also other sustenance needs. And in Kashmir where alternate sources to LPG (read electricity) are already seen to have been hijacked by ‘imperial corporations’ like NHPC with the active connivance of the political class, this fuel scarcity (and huge price increase) is likely to be seen as an extension of government apathy and indifference towards the condition of common people. 

Since rising fuel prices are known to push up retail food prices even further, Kashmir where majority of food is imported, the price increase will put further strain on commoners. In fact it was these rising food prices that provided the catalyst to civil unrest and revolution in many Middle East nations.  These countries had become heavily dependent on imported food products, where escalating prices of food combined with rising fuel costs and indifferent governments provoked these revolts.

As if a weak economy and a turbulent political climate in Kashmir were not enough to add misery to daily life, now comes the cold shoulder of government to this fuel famine. Kashmir always seethes at the edge and having seen political uncertainty and oblivion for decades even this fuel scarcity and price shock for consumers could catapult into a bigger agitation on ground. When winter will start to bite the common man and his body goes shivering on an empty stomach, fists will rise and the cold shoulder of this government will start to feel the jolt. Till then it is having a warm sleep in indifference. 

7th October, 2012

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