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January 28, 2021

GB: myth of energy crisis


January 28, 2021

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Contrary to the political narrative of territorial nationalists, the reason for the abysmal state of energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) cannot simply be attributed to an external conspiracy.

It is even less likely that there is an intrigue by the federal government to leave the fate of 1.8 million people at the mercy of the moon and stars to kindle the dark nights. It is, nonetheless, true that for the last many decades elected local leaders from the mainstream political parties promised the stars and the moon to their beloved people of GB. On the contrary, consecutive governments in GB delivered horribly – a perennial darkness that haunts the gorges and streets of this mesmerizing land.

Riding on the political bandwagon our local conspiracy theorists – whose vision is blurred by a xenophobic feeling of indigenousness – tend to externalize the intriguers and demons of darkness. The evil spell is thus multiplied due to the politics of hypocrisy of mainstream parties and the fear of outsiders within the myopic indigenous nationalist groups. This simply means that the darkness is here to stay unless we understand the crux of this mysterious issue of the energy crisis in GB.

At the heart of this discourse of darkness is the imagination of an outsider whose only schema it is to keep the locals away from the light. What we fail to understand here is not only the political economy of energy but also that we end up becoming the guinea pigs of a bygone political narrative. We also become victims of our own misplaced priorities and darkness becomes our unending misery, and in our hazy world of gimmicks we tend to absolve the real demons of their sins.

Then there are some other dark abettors too in the garb of professionalism who reinforce confusions to sell their hollow ideas. They pretend to have the magic lamp to see through the darkness and hence they keep their lanterns of fortune glowing at the cost of teeming ignorance. They breed an exalted bigotry by unleashing fanciful ideas and heavenly solutions to such earthly problems. They act like omnipotent experts who know everything and whose magic box has a solution to all complexities of life. They proffer to become the voice of every downtrodden and they create a smokescreen to cast spells of verbosity which breed confusion.

The ability to spread confusion is what brings them fortune and fame and they become like an inevitable avatar of revolution in a subaltern society. Those who are plunged into darkness get carried away by these gullible professionals or dream sellers of light, happiness and prosperity.

This is exactly how the energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan is being treated by some self-proclaimed nationalists as a conspiracy of outsiders and by gadget-laden gullible professionals as a figment of popular imagination. The energy debate must neither be located in a conspiracy theory nor in an easy-going consultancy assignment of churning out whimsical ideas as solutions to our perennial darkness. The most important thing to understand is the simple scientific principle that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It is, therefore, important to note that our crisis is not that of energy but a crisis of our failure to utilize our energy sources.

Do our nationalist demagogues imagine our failure to utilize energy resources as a conspiracy of an exotic enemy? Even if it is taken as truth on its face value, then one may ask whether we must forgo the consistent denial by our inept local leaders to make a strong case of the energy crisis in GB. Why did they abstain from presenting the GB energy case in the CPEC meetings and other national energy forums despite several requests? As records would show, the federal governments continued to impress upon consecutive governments in GB to present their options of energy projects for inclusion in CPEC and other PSDP allocations.

Who then conspired against these inept politicians of GB to dissuade them from presenting their energy case on the right fora? Wasn’t it because of their kleptomaniac considerations to protect their own vested interests to seek short-term benefits of kickbacks from locally managed small-scale projects?

The nexus between politicos, bureaucrats and local contractors creates an ideal money-minting proposition – in that from design, procurement, construction, power generation to tariff determination a project becomes the hand-maiden of a powerful cartel. These beneficiaries of small-scale projects know well that mega projects with investors’ money will bring transparency and accountability which simply means that their coveted money minting business will come to an end. GB needs at least 500 megawatts to meet its total power needs but its current power generation capacity is hardly 130 megawatts which goes down to 70 to 90 megawatts during the winter.

Most of the existing hydropower generation facilities in GB are exposed to natural disasters because they are constructed along the nullahs – the natural water courses of high flooding. Despite the fact that GB has the capacity to generate some 50000 megawatts of safe electricity from run of the river projects, the region is plagued by a precarious power supply system from the disaster-prone nullahs. Whose conspiracy must one lament here? Is it the outsider’s intrigue or the insider’s defiance to overcome the power crisis?

There is a group of consultancy-seeking professionals too who pretend to know the solutions to all our economic and political problems in addition to being energy experts. Many of them might not have even read the GB energy policy which was formulated by a team of well-wishers without any greed of political or material reward.

The GB energy policy was thrown into the bin of political rigmarole for almost a decade by the powerful cartel which relished the energy crisis and defied the idea of large-scale projects to overcome it. While energy needs in GB continue to increase, the nullah-based small-scale off-grid hydropower facilities will not be adequate to overcome the power crisis.

The gap between power supply and demand continues to widen while the obsession to construct small-scale projects of less than 5 megawatts does not seem to go away. GB needs some large-scale projects like KIU 100 megawatts, Hanzel 30 megawatts and Attaabad 50 megawatts – to mention a few – to reduce the supply and demand gap in the coming five years. While the energy needs of GB will exceed 600 megawatts by 2025, the current practice of leaving the burden of power generation to engineers will worsen the crisis. Engineers are good for technical oversight while energy economics is the domain of policy experts.

This potential sector of revenue generation must not be left to the devices of local cartels anymore and the newly formed government of GB must engage policy experts to build on the existing energy policy which was put in the bin of history by the previous governments.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76