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After Outrage, J&K Administration Withdraws Order Over Ban on Heating Appliances

A similar order, which has yet to be withdrawn, was issued on November 8 in Doda district where shopkeepers were asked not to sell heating appliances to customers unless they produced electricity bills.
Boys walk in a Gagangir in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir on January 2, 2019. Credit: PTI/S. Irfan

Srinagar: With the onset of winter, when people need more electricity to cope with freezing temperatures, an order issued by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to ban the sale and possession of heating appliances drew heavy criticism from politicians in the valley.

The order – which was issued by the Ganderbal district magistrate on Friday, November 11 – was withdrawn late Saturday.

In Kashmir, heating appliances are the primary source of relief, especially in urban centres, to beat the freezing winter cold when temperature plummets to sub-zero conditions.

The order said that the administration has imposed a blanket ban on the storage, sale, possession and use of heating appliances such as blowers, heaters, radiators, etc. due to the anticipation of “heavy load on (electricity) transmission system” due to “fast approaching winter season”.

The J&K administration had invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (power to issue order in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger) to issue the order.

Criticising the ban on heating appliances, former J&K chief minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah asked whether the people of Kashmir were “supposed to freeze to death”.

He tweeted saying, “This is a ridiculous order. How can the administration impose a blanket ban on sale, usage and even storage of electrical heaters? Is the DC’s heating/cooling AC covered under this Sec 144 ban? Will he have it removed from his office/home? Are people supposed to freeze to death?”

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson Mohit Bhan told The Wire why a similar order was not issued for Jammu when the power demand peaked in the region during summers.

Ganderbal district magistrate, Shyambir Singh, in the order had noted that the use of heating appliances has triggered apprehensions “of short circuits”, which ultimately resulted in fire incidents during the winter season leading to loss to life and property.

The order further noted that the violators “shall attract punitive action under relevant laws”.

Although the order was restricted to the Ganderbal district, there were concerns that it would be extended to the remaining nine districts of the Kashmir valley.

According to Javid Yousuf, chief engineer, power development department (Kashmir), the valley consumes less electricity, between 1,200-1,400 megawatts, during the summer season. However, during the winter season, the demand for electricity goes up as people take out their heating appliances to beat the freezing cold conditions.

He said that the power demand is expected to jump from 1,750 MW in 2021 to around 2,000 MW this year.

Freezing cold conditions also hit the power generation capacity of local hydropower projects. Due to low discharge in rivers, the power generation in hydroelectric projects drops by nearly 70%, leading to a decrease in power generation from 200 MW to only 60 MW.

‘Show electricity bill to buy heating appliance’

On November 8, a similar order was issued in Doda district where shopkeepers were asked not to sell heating appliances to customers unless they produce electricity bills.

The decision was taken after Doda faced severe unscheduled power outages allegedly due to power theft by consumers in unmetered areas.

“The shops selling electrical appliances shall maintain a record of the sold goods. The record of the electricity bills of such customers shall be regularly checked by special teams,” Paul Mahajan, district magistrate of Doda Vishesh, said in the order.

Several politicians have alleged that the J&K administration, which is run directly by New Delhi, was punishing the people of the Muslim-majority region by issuing such orders.

“This is a bizarre and shocking order,” said Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of the National Conference. “Would they order people elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir to stop using air-conditioners when the temperature crosses 40⁰ Celsius mark? We pay for the electricity that we use. Why should the administration punish Kashmiris for its failure in providing 24-hr power supply?” he tweeted.

Senior PDP leader and former minister Naeem Akhtar tweeted saying, “Dear fellow citizens, this is where Kashmir is in the 5th year of Amrit Kaal. Night temperature is below freezing point and use of heaters has been criminalised. We have 6 months of snow, rain and frost ahead of us. Are we going to be frozen to death?”

The Ganderbal district magistrate has withdrawn the order, saying that the previous order “needs correction”. The amended order limits “sale, purchase and use of banned nichrome coil-based crude water heaters and crude cooking heaters. which do not conform to the relevant specifications of the Bureau of Indian Standard”.

However, the Doda district administration’s order has not been withdrawn yet.

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