Water bridges the LoC: 60-year-old water pact between Kashmiri villagers upheld
1 October 2007
The Daily Times
New Delhi: As water disputes between India and Pakistan intensify, villagers in the remote Karnah tehsil on the Indian side, and Neelam Valley on the Pakistani side, of Jammu and Kashmir have devised a unique arrangement to share water across the Line of Control (LoC). Five villages get water from the other side of the LoC to irrigate their fields during the summer months. According to the pact, villagers in AJK divert a stream to irrigate fields of Sodpura, Dhani, Hajitra, Gabra and Chatkareen villages in Karnah tehsil. In return they are paid Rs 12,000 annually as royalty. Locals say the amount is meant to enable those on the other side to employ labour to divert the stream as the fields on this side are on a higher plane. As we cannot go across ourselves, we need to pay for the labourers who dig a new path so that water rushes down to irrigate our fields, say the villagers. Both countries armies have helped maintain this pact for over 60 years, even at times of war. They arrange four flag meetings from April to June every year. Village elders, numberdars and sarpanchs also participate in these meetings to discuss modalities and settle matters related to royalties. We collect money from farmers and pay it to the numberdar and sarpanch of the other side, Muhammad Mansha Pathan, numberdar of Sodpura told reporters who visited the area recently. The money is collected, packed in a purse and tossed across a stream to the other side of the LoC. The sarpanch on the other side, in the presence of army officials, catches the purse, counts the money and then proceeds with engaging labourers. Recalling the history of the pact, Pathan, who has been the sarpanch of Sodpura for the past 15 years, told reporters that shortly after the division of Kashmir in 1947, village elders from both sides sat down and conceived this unique arrangement. Initially the royalty amount was only a few hundred, but has been raised intermittently since. We now pay Rs 12,000. Last year, they demanded Rs 20,000 but we could not collect more than Rs 12,000, and they agreed to divert water for this amount, said Pathan. Like the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) enacted between the two governments, this pact has also survived even in times of war. Praising his counterparts on the other side, Pathan said: Dozens of people used to get injured when troops exchanged shelling prior to the ceasefire, which came into force in 2003. Even then, the villagers from AJK would brave bullets and divert the stream. We never went without water. Sodpura village lies on the forward position beyond the barbed wire fence erected by the Indian troops 500 meters away from the LoC, which appears in the form of a stream here. The troops close the gates at 6pm, and till the next morning the village of Sodpura literally becomes part of AJK until the gates are reopened. Till 1989, villagers from the Indian side were allowed to participate in the annual urs of Sain Mitha Baji, whose shrine is visible from Sodpura but located on AJK side of the LoC. From 1993, people on the Indian side started observing the urs on the banks of the stream on the same day people from the Pakistani side would gather at the shrine. Both sides would communicate in prayers and messages on loudspeakers throughout the day in presence of army officials, related Pathan. Soon after the earthquake shattered the region in October 2005, both governments agreed to open the LoC at five points. In Karnah tehsil, Teetwal point has been opened twice a month since then. Over the past two years 256 people from the Indian side and 80 from AJK crossed over to other side to meet kith and kin. Villagers complain that the cumbersome procedure for seeking entry permits is the greatest hindrance in the way of popularising these crossing points.