A Big Jolt
Bharat scored a victory of sorts in the contentious river waters dispute with Pakistan when the World Bank allowed it to go ahead with the construction of hydroelectric power projects on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers.
Diplomatically it is a major victory for Bharat because Pakistan has been opposing the initiative internationally on the pretext that it would curtail it’s share of river waters.
The World Bank’s consent to Bharat came about after senior officials from both the sides had carried out the secretary-level talks over the IWT.
Bone of Contention
Pakistan has been opposing the construction of the Kishanganga (330 mw) and Ratle (850 mw) hydroelectric power plants saying that it would result in a 40 per cent reduction of water flowing into the country, which, it claimed, was violative of the provisions of IWT.
Pakistan wanted the planned storage capacity of the projects to be reduced from 24 million cubic metres to eight million cubic metres, and demanded that the height of the dams to be reduced.
India firmly contested these objections and said it had never reduced the water flow to Pakistan. Finally, the World Bank agreed with Bharat and gave it’s consent for the two projects.
Pakistan has been also trying to scuttle three other daum projects—1000 MW Pakuldul project on Chenab, 120 MW Miyar project on the right bank main tributary of River Chenab and the 43 MW Lower Kalnai hydro project.
Bharat decided to “exploit to the maximum” the water of Pakistan-controlled rivers, including Jhelum, as per Indus Water Treaty (IWT) after the Uri attack in which 19 Indian Army soldiers were killed in September last.
Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi , while holding a high-level meeting to review the 56 years old Indus Water Treaty had announced that “blood and water” cannot flow together.
Quick on the heels, Bharat decided to “exploit to the maximum” the water of Pakistan-controlled rivers, including Jhelum, as per Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and to fast-track four projects in the Indus river basin to increase irrigation area in J&K by nearly 2.05 lakh acres.
Of these four projects, three—Tral Irrigation Project in Pulwama, Prakachik Khows Canal in Kargil and restoration and modernisation of main Ravi Canal in Jammu”s Sambha and Kathua—are expected to be completed soon, whereas the fourth project of Rajpora Lift Irrigation is planned to be completed by December 2019.
While the first three projects will help irrigate around 1.45 lakh acres of land. The Rajpora Lift Irrigation is expected to help irrigate around 59,305 acres of land.
All these works would cost around Rs 117 crore for which money will be raised by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Until now, sources say, just about seven lakh acres of land is irrigated in the state. “So, the government is trying to complete work on these projects to increase the size of total irrigated area in the state,” said official sources in the Union Water Resources Ministry.
Technically India can irrigate up to 13 lakh acres of land in J&K. This target, they said, can be achieved when optimum storage capacity is achieved in the state. “The projects are being developed well within rights of India and in no way will affect the flow of water to Pakistan,” they said.
Last year an inter-ministerial task force was also constituted to go into the details and working of the Treaty with a “sense of urgency” apart from agreeing to review the “unilateral suspension” of 1987 Tulbul navigation project in 2007 by India.
Sources said many more projects are on the anvil as a part of the government’s efforts to irrigate larger swaths across the country by completing small/medium 99 irrigation projects under ambitious Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKYS) and Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP).
Last year Bharat had decided to suspend talks on the Permanent Indus Commission, the dispute redressal mechanism that has met 112 times, following repeated militants” attacks from across the border. According to Article VIII of the Indus Waters Treaty, the Commission must meet once a year, alternately in India and Pakistan.
However, in March this year Bharat took part in the round-table talks in Islamabad over water disputes between the two countries. Pakistan’s minister for water and power, Khawaja Asif, welcoming the Bharat delegation for the two-day talks, had hoped that the discussions will move forward in anticipation of continued talks in Washington.
In Washington talks in April this year while Bharat had asked for the appointment of a neutral expert over Pakistan’s objections to the projects, Pakistan sought formation of a Court of Arbitration (CoA) on the matter.
Noting that the two countries disagree over whether the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants contravene the treaty, the World Bank said the IWT designates these two rivers as well as the Indus as the “Western Rivers” to which Pakistan has unrestricted use.
“Among other uses, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in annexures to the treaty,” the Bank has said.
Pakistan had approached the World Bank last year, raising concerns over the designs of two hydroelectricity projects located in Jammu and Kashmir.
It had demanded that the World Bank set up a court of arbitration to look into its concerns.
The World Bank threw Pakistan’s contentions out of the window and held Bharat aloft, thus initiating a new chapter in river waters warfare.