Pakistan is facing a water crisis due to poor management and anticipated reduction in intake through the nine trans-border rivers from Afghanistan and in the Indus river from China. Pakistan’s allegation that India is trying to usurp its share of water by constructing hydel power plants on the western rivers is not based on facts.
Lt Gen Pramod Grover (retd)
Former Information Commissioner, Punjab
THE Indus Waters Treaty, signed by India and Pakistan in 1960, mandates the commissions of both countries to inspect sites and works on both sides of the Indus basin in a block of five years. Honouring this obligation, a Pakistani delegation recently visited the Chenab river basin in Jammu and Kashmir for an inspection. Since the signing of the treaty, 118 such tours on both sides have been undertaken. The last tours of the commissions in Pakistan and India were conducted in July 2013 and September 2014, respectively. The current five-year block ends in March 2020.
During the bilateral talks on the treaty in Lahore in August last year, India, rejecting Pakistan’s objections to the construction of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydroelectric power projects (HEPs) on the Chenab river, had invited Pakistani experts to visit the sites to address their concerns regarding the impact on the flow of water into their country.
The Pakul Dul project (1,000 MW, ultimately 1,500 MW) is located on the Marusadar river, a major right-bank tributary of the Chenab Main, in Doda district. The confluence of the Marusadar and Chenab is 225 km upstream of the Marala headworks and 76 km from the Baglihar HEP. A concrete-faced rock fill dam with a height of 167 metres is being constructed at a cost of Rs 8,110 crore. Pakul Dul will not only be the largest hydroelectric power project in Jammu and Kashmir, but will also have the first storage unit. Also, subsequent to its commissioning, Jammu and Kashmir will get 12 per cent free power after 10 years.
The Lower Kalnai HEP is located on the left-bank tributary of the Chenab, about 19 km downstream of Dulhasti HEP and 180 km upstream of the boundary between Pakistan and India. A concrete gravity dam with a height of 34 metres is proposed to be constructed with an installed capacity of 48 MW.
Pakistan has raised technical issues, alleging that the design parameters constitute a violation of the restrictions imposed as per the treaty. Pakistan has objected to the designs of the projects — freeboard, pondage, spillway and intake crest elevation.
India, however, has rejected such assertions, stating that the projects were being built in adherence to the parameters laid down in the treaty. As against 3.6 MAF (million acre ft) which India can store on the western rivers, the total storage capacity created so far is a mere 0.5 MAF. Pakal Dul is a storage project with a capacity of 88,000 acre ft, but this is within the permissible limit of storage of 0.6 MAF on the tributaries of the Chenab. The gross storage capacity of Lower Kalnai (1,508 acre ft) is so small that it has negligible downstream impact on Pakistan. Other design differences are small and not of much significance with respect to downstream impacts.
Water is becoming an existential issue for Pakistan. The country is facing a grim situation regarding its fast-depleting fresh water resources. Pakistan has been attributing its problems of water scarcity to Indian action of constructing hydel projects on the western rivers. In Pakistan’s perception, the construction of dams by India could lower the quantity of water in these rivers.
However, their water-related problems need to be attributed to Pakistan having drawn limited benefit of India’s benevolence, despite the fact that it has been receiving more than its authorised share. Projects being undertaken by India are in tune with the provisions of the treaty. In 1950, the water available per capita annually was 5,500 cubic metres when the population of the erstwhile West Pakistan was 33 million; at present, it is down to 850 cubic metres annually, while the population has increased to 210 million. The overall quantity of water flowing in the western rivers to Pakistan remains approximately the same. As per a recent report, Pakistan is receiving about 154 MAF of water annually against an authorisation of 136 MAF.
As far as India is concerned, the Kashmir dispute and the water dispute are inextricably intertwined. Pakistan’s attempts over the years to annex Kashmir can be seen in the context of attempts to ensure water security. Despite India’s generosity in the sharing of the Indus river waters, Pakistan has consistently adopted an obstructionist strategy since 1977, raising issues regarding run-of-river projects under construction on the western rivers by India.
Such an attitude has not only stressed the treaty itself, but also has had a considerable negative impact on the economic progress of Jammu and Kashmir. The state, even though being upper riparian, exploits merely one-seventh of its hydel power potential. India, at present, irrigates 0.8 million acres area against the limitation imposed on the extent of area to be irrigated (1.32 million acres) with the waters of the western rivers. The annual energy loss suffered by Jammu and Kashmir is 60,000 million units; evaluated at the rate of Rs 2 per unit, it is approximately Rs 12,000 crore. These restrictions have, therefore, imposed a loss in terms of development of industry, power and agriculture equal to around Rs 40,000 crore annually.
The World Economic Forum rates the water crisis as the biggest risk in Pakistan, with terrorist attacks third on the list. Pakistan is facing the crisis due to poor management and anticipated reduction in intake through the nine trans-border rivers from Afghanistan and in the Indus river from China. The reduction in discharge is the result of construction of hydel power projects with storage facilities by Afghanistan and China. Shortage of water in Pakistan, thus, has very little to do with the non-adherence of the provisions of the treaty by India. As such, its allegation that India is trying to usurp its share of water by constructing hydel power plants on the western rivers is not based on facts.
A recent report of the World Bank puts into perspective the massive wastage of water in Pakistan. Water worth $25 billion flows into the sea annually. As per the report, agriculture, which consumes more than 80 per cent of water, contributes less than 5 per cent of the GDP. Pakistan needs to initiate necessary action on its own to improve the water availability to overcome the crisis.