Kishanganga Project's Negative Impact On Pakistan
10 May 2005
The Daily Times
Islamabad: The Permanent Indus Commission (PIC), in its meeting at Lahore, has decided on July 15 as the deadline to resolve the technical and other issues related to India's Kishanganga hydropower project. Pakistan had wanted an early deadline, sometime this month or the next, because it did not want the 'talks to drag on indefinitely'. But the Indian side said it needed time to gather the technical data in view of Pakistan's objections to the project. Finally the two sides accepted July 15 as proposed by India as the cut-off date. The Indian side now has to look into the six questions Pakistan has raised, three of which relate to the design of the project, two are about the diversion of water and one concerns the powerhouse. These six questions were put on the table by Pakistan at the last meeting of the PIC. On the first day of the current round, on Sunday, the two sides took up the first of the six questions. The two sides will discuss the six objections step by step. The press statements given by the head of the Indian team, DK Mehta, so far are encouraging. Mr Mehta is reported to have said that the Indian team has the mandate to resolve all issues and India would review the project if it found that the Pakistani objections were valid. For its part, Pakistan is convinced that it has a very strong case against the project as it stands in its current form. If Mr Mehta is right about India's intention to engage Pakistan meaningfully on this issue, we are delighted because a demonstration of India's sincerity on this issue will definitely have an impact on the other contentious issues. The fact, however, is that until now India has tried to drag the issue, just like it did the Baglihar case. However, the recent summit between President Pervez Musharraf and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - which noted the importance of the water issue - seems to have made a difference to how the two sides are trying to go about addressing all disagreements related to water issues. It is also our independent assessment that if India goes ahead and executes the project along the lines currently conceived, the consequences for Pakistan could be very adverse. The Kishanganga project will dam the Kishanganga (Neelum) River. The proposed 103-metre high reservoir will submerge almost the entire Gurez valley along the AJK's Neelum valley. From this reservoir, water will flow through a channel and a 27-kilometre tunnel dug south through the North Kashmir mountain range. The channel will change the course of Neelum River by around 100 kilometres, which will finally join the Wullar Lake and Jhelum River near the northern township of Bandipur. Presently, the Neelam and Jhelum rivers join each other at Muzaffarabad at a point called Domail. Through the proposed Wullar barrage project, India plans to maintain constant yearly flow in Jhelum. As a consequence of this 100- kilometre diversion of the Neelum River, Pakistan's Neelum Valley could dry up and become a desert. The most important issue here is the diversion of the Neelum River waters to the Wuller Lake. The Pakistani side has made it known that such a diversion contravenes the Indus Water Treaty. According to some estimates, the diversion will also reduce the flow of water into Pakistan significantly (a figure of 27 percent has been bandied about). Further, Pakistan has already started work on its own Neelum-Jhelum project and spent some Rs 71 million on it so far. Any construction on the Neelum River upstream will affect its power generation capacity. Given this picture, it is important for the PIC to look into this project and for India to shelve it pending a mutually satisfactory solution. Even environmentalists in India have objected to the project. Therefore Pakistan should try and get further data on how it will impact the environment. Given how imperative it is for Islamabad to remain alive to such developments, it could arrange for a conference on the issue and invite Indian participants to discuss the impact of this and other such projects. Incidentally, this is not the only project approved by the Indian Prime Minister's Office. The other three include Uri-II, Pakul Dul and Bursar. Uri-II is to be constructed on River Jhelum across the town of Chakothi while Pakul Dul and Burser will be built on the Marusundar stream, a tributary of River Chenab in Kishtwar tehsil of Doda district. New Delhi will provide Rs 148.85 billion while the state government will have to raise Rs 271.8 billion for the proposed projects. Reports suggest that some Rs 537 billion external assistance is expected for these projects. Pakistan needs to look at all these projects for their impact on water flows and the environment. In the meantime, it is important to move towards an early resolution of the issue at the official level. We hope that given the new framework in which the two sides are operating, India will negotiate with Pakistan in good faith instead of using delaying tactics while going ahead with the implementation on the ground of such controversial projects. Water is crucial for Pakistan. The IWT has held for 45 years despite ups and downs in India-Pakistan relations. That is a good sign. Equally, however, it has come under stress as the energy needs on all sides have grown. The Himalayan rivers have a high hydel potential and we would say that the best way to move forward would be for India and Pakistan to work in and through a joint mechanism to increase the advantage of this potential for both sides. A cooperative framework and joint investment is a better option to share water equitably than a necessarily upper- and lower-riparian mechanism.