Extended dry spell imperils power, tourism and fruits in J&K

Region grapples with the unrelenting drought

India Kashmir Tourism A Kashmiri boatman rows his boat in Dal lake in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 7, 2022 | AP

In Jammu and Kashmir, an enduring dry spell is casting a shadow over critical sectors—power generation, the fruit industry, and winter tourism.

As the region grapples with the unrelenting drought, the Power Development Department (PDD) is bracing itself for potential distress in the upcoming summer and winter seasons.

According to Principal Secretary H. Rajesh, the impact on power generation due to the  ongoing dry spell is likely to affect the usual peak season output of 1100-1200 MW, with the department currently generating only 200-250 MW.

Rajesh has expressed concerns, stating, "If the weather situation remains the same, I believe we will face distress in the upcoming summer and winter seasons."

If the dry spell continues, its impact will extend to the next winter season. PDD officials echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the ongoing weather conditions might lead to a distress-like situation. 

In December 2023, a report revealed that the power generation capacity in Jammu and Kashmir had already reduced by nearly 85 per cent due to low discharge in the rivers. 

The total power generation capacity for the region is 1,200 Megawatts, with a significant reliance on the central pool to bridge power gaps.

Simultaneously, fruit growers in the region, including individuals like Mohammad Saleem Dar in Sopore and Rasool Hassan in Langate, are facing an unusual challenge as the prolonged dry spell replaces the traditional snowy weather. 

According to Dar, the absence of snow at this stage is concerning, and fruit growers are closely monitoring the situation.

Hassan believes the dryness not only affects the apples but also brings an unexpected challenge—an invasion of mice that damage roots and wreak havoc in the orchards. 

Farooq Ahmed, a fruit grower in Kupwara district, said the challenges faced by the industry in recent years and the potential severity of the current situation pose a challenge and will exacerbate the problem. 

Fayaz Ahmed Mailk, alias Kaka Ji, President of the Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, highlighted the absence of the customary snowy cloak as a missing chapter in the valley's agricultural story. 

"Witnessing the prolonged dry weather is a deep concern for all of us, as the orchards are facing unprecedented challenges," he said.

Experts also warn of environmental threats. They say the situation poses a significant threat to apple orchards and their production as the trees are highly dependent on well-defined chilling hours during winter, which are essential for proper bud development, dormancy, and subsequent production. 

The dry winter conditions have significantly impacted winter tourism, with Manzoor Pakhtoon, President of the House Boat Owners Association (HBOA), Kashmir, expressing concern over the prolonged dry spell. 

He stated that snow is essential for adventure tourism and that the absence of snow has prompted tourists from Southeast Asia and other foreign countries to put their travel plans on hold or cancel bookings.

Despite these challenges, the region experienced a surge in tourism following its reorganization as a Union Territory. However, the extended dry spell has dampened the spirits of tour operators in the Valley due to numerous cancellations of bookings.

The influx of tourists not only benefits hoteliers, houseboat owners, and transporters but also helps handicraft, dry fruit dealers, and spice traders, particularly those dealing in saffron.

Pakhtoon acknowledged the challenges faced by houseboat owners, including a blanket ban on new houseboat construction and technical difficulties associated with repairs. 

He highlighted that the number of houseboats has dwindled from 1,200 in 2013 to 750. The promotional campaigns launched by the state and Union governments regarding Jammu and Kashmir's integration after the revocation generated curiosity among domestic travelers.

In essence, the multi-sectoral impact of the prolonged dry spell underscores the need for collective attention and sustainable practices to preserve the region's economic pillars and cultural identity for generations to come.

The hope remains that a timely intervention, such as snowfall or potential measures by the administration, can help revive the affected sectors.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp