Chak, a small village on the foothills of a rocky hill in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, some 70km from Srinagar and adjacent to the under-construction Kishanganga hydropower plant is without electricity for the past 23 years.
Having a population of around 1,200, residents of Chak village, all belonging to the Scheduled Tribe Gujjar community, complain of systematic government apathy as they are forced to live in the dark and without proper water supply in the digital age.
The pastoral tribe of Gujjars has lived in the mountainous regions since centuries, and experts say they were converted to Islam during the Mughal era.
“The village was electrified in 1985. But in 1992, many electric poles and wires were damaged following storm and heavy snowfall. The damaged infrastructure has not been put in place since then and we are forced to live in the dark. Our repeated pleas to the government have fell on deaf ears,” said Mohammad Muzaffar (30), deputy headman of the village.
“Till two-three years back, we didn’t even have roads in the village. The water pipes laid by the government are of no use as we have to fetch water from a polluted natural stream that flows through the village. We don’t even have a dispensary in the village,” Muzaffar added.
Official records reveal that there are 180 families in Chak of which 100 are below poverty line (BPL). Most people here work as labourers and animal breeders, while others have low-ranking government jobs.
“Residents who are better off buy solar power setups on loan. Since we are Scheduled Tribe, we get some subsidy. But the poor in this village use lighted wood sticks and candles to do household work. We also use lanterns,” said Shakeel Ahmad (40), another resident.
The houses do not have a single power plug-point, a close inspection revealed. Many people go to nearby areas where there is electricity to charge their mobile phones and battery-powered lights.
Children and teenagers, who study at the primary and middle school in Chak and high school in the nearest town of Bandipora, have their own share of complains. Some teens also work as labourers in nearby towns on a part-time basis to support their families.
“I have not seen electricity in the village since my birth. I want to become a doctor, but I don’t think it’s easy to crack the medical entrance exam when you have to study holding a lighted wood stick in one hand,” said Tabassum, a student of Class 11.
“If not electricity, kindly provide us with free solar panels. We can’t afford to buy that,” she added.
The 330-MW power plant by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) is located on the Jhelum tributary Kishanganga and passes through the adjacent villages of Kralpora and Chak. The estimated output is 1,350 million units and the project is expected to provide power in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chandigarh.
While senior NHPC officials remained tight-lipped about the problems in the area and blamed it on the state government, local political leaders said Chak had been ignored by successive governments.
Local legislator Usman Majid said: “The village is without electricity since 1992 and the condition of roads and water supply reflects the extent of negligence. But I hope that by March-April next year, we will have Chak and other such villages electrified under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.”