Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Indus Water Treaty-1960 in Doldrums--Wake Up Before its too late

WHILE the “power crisis” has caused the economic slowdown, India withheld millions of cubic feet of water upstream on the river Chenab by storing it in dozen of newly constructed dams so as to generate 8,696 MW hydro-electricity for the growing needs of its burgeoning population. This was a flagrant breach of Indus Water Basin Treaty of 1960, as the construction by India of Dulhasti, Dugar, Gondhala, Reoli/Dugli, Sach-Khas, Tandi, Teling Tinget, Sawalkot, Seli, Raoli and Kirthal hydropower projects has tremendously decreased the flow of Chenab river. India has commenced work on other two controversial dams on River Chenab named Uri-1 and Uri-2. Indian Prime Minister while inaugurating a 450-MW hydroelectric Baglihar Dam said:

“It is a matter of satisfaction that the reconstruction programme comprising 67 projects is well under way with 19 projects completed, one of which is Baglihar Dam that I inaugurated today”.

With such like projects to materialize on rivers flowing into Pakistan, the country will be increasingly confronted with impending water shortages. The talks on sharing of river waters between India and Pakistan suffered a severe blow due to Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11 that killed 166 people. Pakistan wants to resume unconditional dialogue process in resolving the bilateral problems, including the core Kashmir issue and also deal effectively with terrorism. Water issue is an ideal starting point for re-initiating “Composite dialogues” because the two countries face similar challenges so vital for their fast track agro-based economies.

Unfortunately, the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is slipping into this new kind of war over the distribution of water as a resource. This is because the sources of all the five tributaries of the Indus - Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej remained in India. The dispute between India and Pakistan over water resources is rooted in history. Just after the partition of the subcontinent in 1948, Delhi stopped the flow of water from the canals on its side, denying water to some 8 per cent of the cultivated area. However, India agreed with Pakistan, which allowed for the continuation of water supplies for irrigation purposes until the Pakistani side managed to develop alternative water resources. As a result of World Banks constant efforts from 1952 to 1960, the Indus Water Treaty-1960 was signed, designed to regulate water use in the region. According to Indus Water Treaty of 1960, India has got the exclusive control over the waters of the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej, whereas Pakistan controls the waters of the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab. As the demand for water has increased by leaps and bounds, India is seeking maximum control over the sources of the supply of water of 3 western rivers, and thereby increasing the tension with Pakistan that share the claims over water.

The alarming situation again emerged in 1992, when India announced plans for the controversial water reservoir, the Baglihar Dam on the Chenab River - allotted to Pakistan by the 1960 treaty. The Chenab is fed with glacial melt-waters from the Himalayas and for centuries has provided crucial irrigational system for the region. While the accord gave India full rights to use water from the eastern rivers by building dams and barrages, it allowed limited irrigation use of water from the western river earmarked for Pakistan. The Treaty barred India from interfering “with the water of these rivers except for domestic use and non-consumptive use, limited agriculture use and limited utilization for generation of hydro-electric power.” The treaty also barred India from storing any water or constructing any storage works on the western rivers that would result in a reduced flow of water to Pakistan. According to Indus Water Treaty-1960, Pakistani position on the Chenab water issue has been that a minimum of 55,000 cusecs of water should flow into Pakistan at the Marala head-works near Sialkot in peak season; however, a flow of only 22,000 cusecs was recorded last year, adversely affecting the crops. However, during January 2010, the water flows in Chenab declined by 40 per cent to about 6,000 cusecs from a 10-year average of about 10,000 cusecs, mainly because of construction of hydropower projects upstream by India, reduction in rainfall and diversion of river waters. Most of the hydrologists are of the view that sharp water decline in flow of the river at Head-Marala in Pakistan is due to unauthorised direct water withdrawal by farmers in Jammu with the support of Indian authorities who had especially subsidized electricity for direct pumping in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh and diversion of Ravi-Tavi link canal. India used to irrigate 642,000 acres from western rivers by Ranbir and Pratap canals when the treaty became effective, but it had built five more canals over the past 10 years to increase the irrigated area. These include Kashmir canal system, high canal system in Jammu, Ravi-Tavi link irrigation system, Igo-phey canal in Leh and Kurbathang canal in Kargil. Pakistan has asked India to provide details of its agricultural acreage, crops and other projects to enable it to make plans in advance. Pakistan believes Baglihar dam on Chenab & Wullar barrage on Jhelum can be used as: (1) a geo-strategic weapon, (2) potential to disrupt the triple canal project of Pakistan, (3) badly affecting the Neelum-Jehlum hydro-power project, (4) setback to agriculture in Azad Kashmir and wheat production in Punjab, (5) drying of 5.6 million acres of lands of Punjab province, (6) depriving Pakistan of water up to 7000 cusecs per day, (7) neglecting the seismic activity in the area (Murree-Jhelum faulty lines).

In order to resolve the challenges judiciously, India must reconsider its decision of suspending the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. India’s delaying tactics to restart the stalled bilateral negotiations on one pretext or the other are simply alienating the two nations further and are also not in the interest of India itself. Any major upstream alteration in a river system, should be negotiated, not imposed as in case of Indian water overtures on rivers Chenab and Jhelum. The Governments of India and Pakistan should look beyond national borders to basin-wide cooperation. A similar situation arose between India and Pakistan on the Salal Dam issue, but the matter was finally resolved through bilateral negotiations and conclusion of Salal Dam Treaty in 1978. As the Salal Dam issue was resolved through talks, given the will, the Baghliar Dam issue can also be settled. Pakistan had asked India to proportionately reduce their water use on its side when river water declined abnormally. Pakistan maintains that India, under the treaty, can store water but it cannot divert it to any other side. Thus, any diversion would violate the provisions of the IWT-1960. And once the issues related to water are discussed and settled, it can assist in easing tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. It is high time that both India & Pakistan should forego their vested interests for the overall prosperity of the region. The international community can play an instrumental role in coaxing India to resume dialogue process between India & Pakistan – so critical for the stability of the South Asia.

BY I A Khanzada

Source: The Pakistani Spectator

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