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India-Pakistan Water Dispute Bone Of Contention

Updated: July 16, 2011 10:45 am

Everything and anything from territory to water over Jammu and Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan and the latest bone of contention is the Kishanganga hydro project in Jammu and Kashmir. Kishanganga hydropower project is being built on Kishanganga, a tributary of river Jhelum that flows into Pakistan, which has raised objections claiming that India’s planned hydropower dam on the Kishanganga River would violate a 50-year-old water-sharing treaty between the two neighbours by diverting water that Pakistan needs for agriculture and power generation. India denies its project would violate the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), brokered by World Bank. Water disputes have become a growing point of controversy between the rivals in recent years. In May, Pakistan registered a case against 330 megawatt hydro power and storage project in World Bank’s arbitration court. And to solve the matter, a high-profile team of court of arbitrators and representatives from India and Pakistan inspected the project site in Bandipore district of Kashmir this week, following which the arbitrator would come up with the decision, which the both countries are bound to abide by.

Pakistan raised two major objections over the Project—First, Kishanganga River’s route cannot be diverted. Second, the water level cannot be taken below the dead-storage-level of the dam. They allege that the construction of the tunnel which will lift Kishanganga water from Gurez for power generation at Bandipora will hit the water economy of Pakistan.

The completion time of Kishanganga Dam is 2014. On its part, however, Government of India is firm on its stand that the project is strictly following IWT. “There is no question of violating the treaty. The height of the dam for the project has already been reduced from the original 98 metres to 37 metres following objections from Pakistan,” said a top official.

Similarly, Pakistan is also constructing a 969 MW hydropower project across its side. The Kishanganga river is called Neelam after it passes into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir from Gurez subdivision in Bandipora and has placed the project in the hands of a Chinese consortium. But IWT provides that the project which is completed first would be declared viable and the other would be rendered non-viable.

For Jammu and Kashmir, the Indus Water Treaty has been a major cause of concern. It has been preventing it from exploiting water resources even for power generation, let alone irrigation. The state has the potential of producing 20,000 MW of hydro electric power but cannot do so due to repeated complaints by Pakistan. Though, the Treaty does not prevent India from using the river water for power generation, it does put some restrictions on storage, which could be detrimental to the other country’s interests. About Pakistan’s complaint of the reduction of water supply to it, India has been arguing that even if the water is diverted into the Jhelum, it finally goes to Pakistan only and as such there is no reduction in the quantum of water flowing into Pakistan. This is the reason why most Kashmir politicians have begun demanding abrogation of the Treaty itself. When it was signed in 1960, India wanted to protect the interests of the lower riparian neighbour. If Pakistan continues to raise objections every time India starts working on a project, without in any way reducing the water flow into its territory, it is bound to create new friction between the two neighbours.

It bears mention here that Pakistan had raised similar objections to the Baglihar power project constructed in Ramban district. The prolonged discussions and arbitration by World Bank-appointed expert had given the go-ahead to India but not without causing some unnecessary delays. The Pakistani objections to Baglihar project has led to some minor changes being incorporated in the dam design. These design elements are the cause of silting of the dam, something that impacts the power generation adversely. As of now, another power project on river Chenab at Sawalakote has been stalled because of court proceedings. However, experts believe that in due course of time, if and when work starts on this project, Pakistan will raise objections to it as well.

Despite being upper riparian nation, India can only wring its hands in despair as millions of cusecs of water passes from its territories but it can’t store any of it. Not that Pakistan as lower riparian state is able to harness the entire run-off of water. The trust deficit between the two nations, accentuated by the emerging evidence of Pakistani hand in terror attacks in India, means the two can hardly work together on any projects. In fact, if they were to work together in an amiable manner, and adopt a policy of give and take, they will both be richer, and that will be a win-win situation.

By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu

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