InternationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 24

India’s controversial dams

The Pakistan-India water dispute has a long history. In the past, India exploited the water situation in its favour as the sources, or headwaters, of four out of five major rivers of Pakistan are situated in Indian territories. During the 117th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission, held between the officials of both countries in Islamabad in the first week of March 2022, Pakistan expressed its serious concern on the Kiru hydroelectric project (HEP), located upstream the Chenab River and India’s new run-of-the-river small hydroelectric projects on western rivers. Pakistan also objected to Indian projects, including Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai, which could potentially deprive it of its water share in future.

According to official sources, Pakistan conveyed to the visiting delegation on the issue of the 1,000MW Pakal Dal hydropower project on the Chenab River that the Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Water (PCIW) had decided to invoke Article 9 of the treaty that provides for resolution of differences and disputes through various international forums of arbitration. Pakistan has serious objections to the spillway and freeboard of the project.

In the past too, Pakistan has time and again warned that the unchecked construction of run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects by India on Pakistan’s rivers posed an existential threat to the country. At a seminar, the representatives of the Punjab Water Council (PWC), Farmers Associates of Pakistan (FAP), Research Institute of Natural Resources of Pakistan (RINP), and Water Resources Development Council (WRDC) discussed the future impact of the Indus Basin Water Treaty of 1960 on the water availability to farmers, in the light of the decisions on the Baghlihar and Kishanganga hydroelectric projects of India.

The attitude and action during the past decades clearly showed that violation of the Indus Basin Treaty was in line with India’s national policy of backtracking on its pledges and breaking international agreements and defying the UN. It seems India intends to complete its water denial plan to Pakistan in future after which Pakistan would be deprived of its share of water. Pakistan’s condition will become worse than Somalia and Ethiopia, the two drought-ridden countries. And if India opens the gates of the illegally built dams, it could sink Pakistan within 48 hours, believe water experts.

In 2011, India released 80,000 to 100,000 cusecs of water after its dams were filled and could no longer accommodate additional water. On August 16, 2011, India spilled more than 70,000 cusecs of additional water into the Sutlej River without prior information to Pakistani authorities, inundating dozens of villages in the Ganda Singhwala area of Kasur district, which caused billions of rupees losses to the farmers. Water experts say that New Delhi, in sheer violation of the Indus Water Treaty, released more than 70,000 cusecs of water into the Sutlej on the Pakistani side, which raised its level to an alarming level and washed away dozens of villages in Kasur after creating an emergency flood situation in the entire area.

According to experts, the Kishanganga hydroelectric project had already diverted a portion of the Neelum River from Pakistan, reducing power generation at the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower plant of Pakistan. India claimed the project had diverted 10% of the river’s flow, while other estimates stand as high as 33%. Water flow below the Neelum-Jhelum dam in Pakistan’s Neelum Valley has been rendered minimal, as both projects diverted water to the Jhelum River. It had had an adverse impact on the Neelum Valley.

Pakistan, in the past, moved various world forums, though no favourable results could be obtained for various reasons. In 2010, Pakistan appealed to the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (CoA), complaining that the Kishanganga project violates the Indus River Treaty by increasing the catchment of the Jhelum River and depriving Pakistan of its water rights. In June 2011, the CoA visited both Kishanganga and Neelum-Jhelum projects.

After Pakistan failed to get a favourable decision from the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (CoA), it asked the World Bank in August 2016 to appoint a court of arbitration to review the designs of the Kishanganga project and another project on the Chenab, called Ratle. In 2018, Pakistan wrote to the World Bank demanding that it ensured India abided by the treaty. There is no decision yet against India over the injustice committed to Pakistan. And now India has launched more controversial water projects.

Experts say with climate change and, as a consequence, shrinking water availability across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, violent conflict between states is increasingly likely. It has been estimated by experts that by 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult, or impossible, to mobilise water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households. Population growth, urbanisation and the rapid development of manufacturing industries are relentlessly increasing demand for finite water resources. Symptoms of the resulting water stress are increasingly visible. In northern China, rivers now run dry in their lower reaches for much of the year. In parts of Pakistan and India, groundwater levels are falling so rapidly that from 10% to 20% of agricultural production is under threat. The only way to stop this water war in the Subcontinent region is to stop India from constructing dams on Pakistani rivers and blocking their water.