Amid sudden rise in gunfights between militants and security forces in Kashmir, rumor mills are rife that the LED bulbs given on subsidy by the government are equipped with “hi-tech spy sensors” that keep the concerned agencies updated about any militant movement at residential houses. Unnerved, many people have been breaking the bulbs or looking for alternatives.

As per the word of mouth (which is going viral), the bulbs have an “in-built smart chips” which gets activated once the bulb is stitched on and keeps the concerned person including the Army and the Police updated about any possible presence of militants in the house.

Many believe that same has come true in restive south Kashmir areas like Tral where gun battles have been raging for the past few months. “We’re told that within minutes of militants having switched on the lights in the house where they had taken refuge, Army stormed the hideout, triggering an encounter in which two militants lost their lives. This means there’s some connection between these lights and the tipoff led to the encounters,” a group of villagers said.

Those unnerved are opting for remedial measures. “I broke one of the bulbs to try and find out the spy chip but couldn’t find any. Still I am replacing them all because it’s better to be safe than get unwittingly used at the hands of Indian government. Who knows if my bedroom gossip is also getting recorded,” said a Pulwama man.

In 2016, as a part of the countrywide Ujala scheme for registered domestic consumers, the state government started distribution of LED lamps of popular brands at subsidised Rs 20 per piece for first five purchases. The subsequent sale is offered at Rs 60, a comparatively much cheaper price than open markets, where such device costs around Rs 200.  With over 50 lakh bulbs already distributed, Ujala has been a big hit in Kashmir.

State’s Power Development Department doesn’t rule out “sabotage bids” by private players who have suffered business loss due to Ujala. “We have reports that over 50 lakh bulbs in open markets aren’t finding buyers. So blaming Ujala bulbs of being spy-chipped as a part of marketing strategy cannot be ruled out,” a senior official in the PDD says.

Officials have a word of advice. Er Hashmat Qazi, the nodal officer of Ujala scheme says these rumours are the “most hilarious” ones that he has ever come across in life.  “These bulbs are not manufactured by the government but five leading private companies. And to keep our esteemed customers informed, this scheme is not for Kashmir alone but a nationwide LED program, so better use the lights with a zeal to save energy,” Qazi, an electrical engineer told InUth.

Police say that lighting has often been targeted by miscreants. “Streetlights installed under various sadhbhawana programs or otherwise have often been smashed so that militants or stone-pelters enjoy free movement in darkness without getting identified. But people suspecting their own domestic lights as being spies is news to me,” says Rayees Mohammad Bhat, Senior Superintendent of Police in restive Pulwama.