India’s unilateral diversion of water


M Nawaz Khan

INDIA has built multiple barrages and dams on the western rivers (the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum). These projects are causing major water shortages in Pakistan or causing floods through former‘s mal-operation. Pakistan‘s believes that India is holding back water of rivers flowing from Kashmir by building run-of-the-river storage dams and barrages, and unilateral diversion of water, which is in clear violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). One example is flood storage on River Jhelum.
India is required to empty storage water as soon as floods recede. The Wullar Barrage storage capacity is 0.32Million Acre Feet (MAF). It affects the water flow of River Jhelum especially during the dry season. India is constructing a barrage at the outlet of Wullar Lake and if this Barrage is constructed, it would have control over 0.32 MAF. When Pakistan objects to India‘s illegal transgressions (a) India carried out construction without sharing requisite information with Pakistan; and (b) the construction work is in violation of Paragraph 7 of Annexure-E of the IWT, and wants to take the case to neutral experts, India suspends construction.
Another example is the Kishanganga Hydro-power project, which has become a bone of contention between both countries. Initially, the dispute was about water diversion from one tributary to another. Pakistan claimed that this is the violation of Article (clause) 1V-3-c of the IWT. Consequently, this divergence would reduce maximum natural flow of water of the Neelum-Jhelum River. According to some reserved estimates, Pakistan would face 27 per cent (in case of maximum diversion of total water flow) water deficit with the construction of 22km long tunnel for diverting water from the Kishanganga to the Wuller Lake. Due to Indian obstinacy and inflexibility for resolving this issue through the Permanent Indus Commission, Pakistan, approached the International Court of Justice, which permitted India — while taking into account the basic essence of the IWT to protect the water rights of low riparian countries — to divert minimum water flow from Kishanganga for generating power under certain parameters and limits, i.e. without disturbing the natural flow of River Neelum. Besides, India will be unable to divert permanently complete winter flows over a period of six to eight months in a year.
Furthermore, there are two other issues in this regard: faulty design and inappropriate pondage size of the Kishanganga dam. Initially, again Pakistan adopted the bilateral mediating procedure through Permanent Indus Commission as documented in the IWT to express its concerns, but in vain. Therefore, Pakistan has decided to take this case to a third party. India‘s understanding of the pondage size of Kishanganga dam is 6136 Acre Foot (AF), whereas Pakistan‘s interpretation is that India is only allowed 1000 AF storage capacity. On finalisation, the project would certainly shrink the course of River Neelum, which will in turn reduce power generating capacity of 969-MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) by more than 20 per cent or about 100-MW. The construction of Kishanganga is a part of India‘s water strategy, which is exclusively designed to impact Pakistan adversely on socio-economic fronts.
Pakistan has shown its apprehensions about transparency relating to insufficient data sharing about the building of Indian hydro works like Hanu Small Hydroelectric Plant, Chutak, NimooBazgo, Baglihar, Wullar Barrage, Dul-Hasti, Uri-II, Marpachoo Hydroelectric Plant and Kishengangahydroprojects, etc., which has deepened its fretfulness. It has also raised concerns that project designs made by India are in violation of the IWT criteria, particularly high pondage, deep orifice spillways, excessive freeboard, etc., which lends India high control over water. The Article Vll (2) and paragraph 9 Annexure-D of the IWT state that India is obligated to provide data to Pakistan about its projects at the planning stage, i.e. six months prior to the construction of river projects.
Instead, India is not following the IWT as it usually takes more time in deciding its projects. Salal project, for instance, which was settled amicably and Baglihar project, settled by a third party, remained under negotiation for eight and fifteen years, respectively, before both parties reached any decision. Basically, this is an Indian tactic to delay resolving water issues for gaining maximum time to complete larger part of the work with the intent that by the time Pakistan goes to the Court of Arbitration or a neutral expert to protest, the procedural time lag involved therein would enable it to have substantial on-ground evidence needed to prove its stakes in front of mediators for the continuation of its projects, thereby seeking maximum concessions against the will of Pakistan.
Furthermore, Pakistan has also made several requests to India for sharing real-time flood data and water level in its dams and expected rains ahead of the crucial monsoon season, but India has refused on many occasions. For instance, the Pakistani High Commission, in 2012, sought forecast data about water flow from dams built on Sutlej, Bias and Ravi, but the request was declined. On the other hand, Pakistan has been facing floods of various magnitudes from 1950 to 2016. The country has suffered huge financial losses, amounting to $38 billion from 1947 to 2014. In addition, the Indus Water Commissioner of Pakistan has demanded the Indus Water Commissioner of India to schedule meetings on time so that Pakistan would be abreast of Indian hydro-projects, but the latter has been delaying the meetings unnecessarily. When relations are strained between both, cooperation level in the water sector also drops since it is seen through the prism of high and low politics in South Asia.
Presently, half of Pakistan‘s population faces food insecurity. If the existing tendency of Indian interference in disturbing natural river flows continues, the availability and accessibility of food may become difficult for over 60 per cent of the populace in the next ten years. Besides, minimum environmental flows in river systems and deltas also require additional water.
—The writer works at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.