Wullar Lake in Kashmir acts as a huge natural sponge the God has gifted to the valley, to save it from submergence, excess Jhelum waters, unseasonal rains and other such conditions. For some decades, the size and depth of the Lake is reducing —not due to the natural consequences, but due to the human greed. The militants do not allow its dredging alleging that it constitutes violation of Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). They forced the labourers to run away threatening them to be killed, thus protecting Pakistan’s interests!
India signed the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan on September 19, 1960. The Treaty distributed waters of the rivers between both the countries. It is a treaty based, not on a spirit of cooperation, but specifically aimed at minimizing confrontation. It took a long time to negotiate, almost 12 years, as negotiations had started in 1948. Incidentally, though the treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 its provisions were applicable retrospectively from April 1, 1960. It took so long to negotiate because the two sides had (still have) little, if not no, faith in one another. This deficit of trust is a legacy that lasts even now, over five decades later, and spills over into other, rather very many, spheres. Till date, the two sides have not been able to build trust, and their people pay the price. In installments, large and small, at one time or the other.
On the other side, the Treaty is often cited as a model of cooperation between the two sides. Surviving some wars that of 1965, 1971 and 1999, which Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statesmanship limited to Kargil district. And the covert war that Pakistan is waging against Bharat, since it came into being.
Division of Rivers
From Bharatiya perspective, if one sees the IWT today, it is surprising in some ways. Did we have bad negotiators representing us in negotiations with Pakistan for IWT? Whether the Bharatiya negotiators actually protected the Bharatiya interests? Were they not provided true data so that they could defend Bharat’s interests while negotiating this water treaty of great significance? Since the treaty was brokered by the World Bank (its precursor), did its representatives arm-twist Bharat and gave concession after concession to Pakistan? These questions arise because under this water treaty, Pakistan has been granted use of almost 80 per cent of waters flowing commonly through Bharat and Pakistan. Bharat has got use of a miserly 20 per cent only.
Incidentally, the IWT gives exclusive use of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, called the Eastern Rivers, to Bharat. All these three rivers flow through the Bharatiya Punjab. The same way, the treaty delegates the use of the so-called Western Rivers, the Chenab, the Jhelum and the Indus, to Pakistan.
The Western Rivers, allotted to Pakistan under the IWT, flow through the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The Chenab River originates way beyond Kishtwar district of J&K and after flowing through high mountains of Kishtwar, mountainous Doda and Ramban, Reasi it enters plains in Jammu district from where it exits into Pakistan. All through its journey in Bharat, and J&K, it flows through the geographically distinct Jammu region.
The next Western River Jhelum originates at Verinag in Anantnag district, meanders through Kulgam, Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Baramula districts from where it goes into Pakistan. Effectively, the Jhelum is the lifeline of Kashmir and goes through almost all south, central and north Kashmir districts. It looks very serene and flows silently throughout the Valley except in some parts of Baramula where one can hear it flowing because of the steep gradient.
The mighty Indus flows through the third distinct geographical region of J&K, Ladakh, and almost makes no noise about its existence, and strength, all through its journey in Bharat. Flowing silently, and moving forward in an unobtrusive way. Of the three Western Rivers allotted to Pakistan, the Jhelum can be, and is, at times the most destructive. The way it proved to be last year, in 2014, when its waters broke its banks, and engulfed almost the entire Valley.
Floods in Kashmir
The location of Kashmir Valley is in a way peculiar geographically as Jhelum river flows through almost its entire length, and exiting it beyond Baramula. The bowl-like Valley is irrigated, nurtured and drained by the Jhelum. One important feature on Jhelum’s journey throughout Kashmir is the Wullar Lake on its way. The river enters the Lake, at one end, and exits at the other. The largest freshwater lake, of all existing lakes anywhere in the neighbouring countries, the Wullar Lake is a very important feature in Kashmir. Unfortunately, it is being vandalised recklessly, and that has very dangerous consequences for Kashmir. Last year’s floods showed that tragically.
It is not off the mark to say that the Wullar Lake, located where it is, acts as a huge natural sponge the God has gifted to Kashmir, to save it from submergence, excess Jhelum waters, unseasonal rains and other such conditions. Whenever excess water accumulates, and flows through the Valley, the Lake absorbs it, acting as a buffer. The capacity of this buffer has been compromised, reduced many times it was originally or let us say once upon a time.
In the past few decades, the size of the lake has been reduced much. The use of ‘been’ is deliberate as humans have played the worst role in reducing its size. The size has not been reduced as a result of natural consequences, with human greed, insatiable, for land, playing havoc. If the size of the lake has been reduced in arithematical progression, its water handling capacity has been reduced in geometrical progression exponentially. Not only has the lake size been reduced dramatically, its depth has drastically been reduced. The large water body has been reduced to a sorry replica of itself, incapable of discharging the role mother nature has/had entrusted it. The role of a benign benefactor, a silent protector of Kashmir, saving it from depredations.
Some half hearted measures are being taken by the state government, and they have no doubt picked up pace once the new government was sworn in, in March this year. But undoing years of neglect, years of official apathy, is a task that cannot be achieved overnight.
Attack by Militants
A little over three years ago, on August 27, 2012, some militants attacked the fast paced dredging and other works going on in the Lake. This they did at Adipora village in Baramula district, alleging the works constituted a violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). The militant attack on Bharatiya soil was thus carried out to protect, and promote, Pakistan’s interests! They burst the tyres of some tippers involved in carrying sand and gravel from lake bed, some JCB machines, and badly beat up workers. The militants forced the workers to run away threatening them they would be killed, if they returned. The Executive Engineer in charge of the project works then, named BL Kachroo, had a tough time pleading with the workers to return, and resume work. For months on end, he ran around in circles, pleading for enhanced security for the workmen. The work resumed months later, but could not gather the earlier pace. The attack by militants was wrong on many, many counts. The first and foremost being the falsehood, the rumour being spread that the works constituted a violation of the IWT.
Second, the treaty provides for a mechanism to resolve differences between the two countries, and any use of force, arms, is definitely not the way prescribed. There are provisions in the treaty of dealing with one another in a civilised manner. Mechanisms were put in place for doing so as early as 1960 itself.
Third, the allegations that the works were meant to harm Pakistan were totally out of sync with reality. In fact, the opposite would have happened and Pakistan gained. Dredging in the lake would have enhanced its water holding capacity, and this water would have been available downstream (to Pakistan) in ‘lean period’ (winter months).
Fourth, the IWT nowhere prohibits Bharat from taking flood protection measures, dredging lakes, or the river Jhelum. On page 5, of Annexure E, exchanged between Bharat and Pakistan, of the IWT, it is clearly written: “9. Bharat may construct on Jhelum Main such works as it may consider for flood control of the Jhelum Main and may complete any such works as were under construction on the Effective Date: Provided that (i) any storage which may be effected by such works shall be confined to off-channel storage in side valleys, depressions or lakes and will not involve any storage in the Jhelum Main itself.”
There are many other reasons besides to explain why the attack by militants was patently wrong, and constituted a breach of IWT, by Pakistan, and not by Bharat as alleged. Nobody exposed the militants that they were lying blatantly and that they were fanning false rumours. Two years later, in September 2014, the beautiful valley of Kashmir was submerged in flood waters. Contrary to their claims, the militants had done immense damage to the people of Kashmir, the ordinary silent citizens.
Sant Kumar Sharma