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Baglihar Conflict

Updated on July 27, 2015

In the twenty first century many parts of the world are likely to witness their wars on water. Probably the tensions on water are nowhere as intense as they are in South Asia. The Baglihar project manifests how difficult it is to reconcile the mutually exclusive positions taken by the sides. Baglihar Dam, however is an example of Indian intransigence and indifferent attitude towards needs of its smaller neighbour. It also highlights that how a powerful country can so easily opt to violate the international treaties.

The Baglihar controversy has its genesis in Indus Waters Treaty, which has worked well for the last forty five years. The treaty has survived mostly because it involves actors outside the region - the World Bank being the most important of them.

The two sides under the treaty enjoy exclusive rights over the rivers flowing through the one to the other. Few Indians think that the treaty gave no consideration to the issue of future requirements that both the countries may have, as far as utilising common waters is concerned, power generation being only one of the most important of these usages. In another Indian view, the treaty failed to visualise, and consequently provide for, any water shortages to occur in the future.

The Indian attitude has heightened fears in Pakistan, that India being an upper riparian is trying to 'gobble up' more water than its share. Additionally, India wants to use/regulate the waters of all these rivers and to starve Pakistan, as was threatened by an Indian minister by saying “if we decide to scrap Indus Waters Treaty, then there will be drought in that country.

Soon after the independence, on April 1, 1948 India cut off supplies in every canal crossing into Pakistan. The Indian act created drought like situation in the country. Such was the criticality of the situation that an American, Mr David Lilienthal said “Pakistan includes some of the most productive food growing lands in the Western Punjab and the Sindh. But without water for irrigation this would be desert, 20,000,000 acres would dry up in a week, tens of millions would starve. Under these conditions many parleys were held, finally in September 1960, the Indus Waters Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan under the auspices of the World Bank.

Waters of the western rivers (Jhelum, Chenab and Indus) were given to Pakistan for her use except for 5 MAF to India for use in Kashmir.

A transition period of ten years, during which Pakistan shall make endeavours to construct a system to link Western Rivers through canals. Therefore three dams, three barrages and eight feeder canals i.e Chashma - Jhelum, Taunsa –-Panjnad, Rasul - Qadirabad, Qadirabad - Balloki, Balloki - Suleimanki, Trimmu - Sidhnai, Sidhnai - Mailsi, Marala - Ravi will be constructed in Pakistan.

Despite Pakistani protests India began building a hydropower plant in infringement of the Treaty in the early 1970s by undertaking construction of Salal Dam (690 MW) capacity on River Chenab. Pakistan dropped its objection in 1978 when India agreed to lower height of the dam. Pakistan therefore cleared the project. Another big project of 450 MW generation capacity is now being built by India at Baglihar on River Chenab. India also began construction of the 330 MW hydropower plant on the Neelam (Kishan Ganga). After Pakistani objection the work on the project was held up but is likely to be started again. Another dam planned to be built in treaty violation is Sawal Kot (1200 MW) an 830 feet high dam. Therefore, India is violating the treaty by constructing bigger dams whereas the treaty allows her to build only small Run –of--­ River dams. India is also planning to link the Indus River to Brahamputra in the east and Godavery, Cauvery Rivers in the south. The plan will be completed in ten years at a cost of US$ 112 Billion, and if completed, will be a great loss to Pakistan.

Under the provisions of Indus Water Treaty 1960, India informed Pakistan in 1992 about its plan to construct a hydro-electric power plant on Baglihar. The Baglihar project is a Run-of-River hydro electric plant with live pondage and initial designs stipulate storage capacity in excess of Indus Waters Treaty clauses. Work on Rs 38 Billion dam started in May 1999. Pakistan has strong objections to the dam’s design, its storage capacity etcetera but despite demands India has neither stopped the construction nor amended the design. Rather, India is reported to have completed 60% of construction work on power house while 35% work at the reservoir has also been completed.

Pakistani objections are:-

The 470 feet high dam will create a reservoir in excess of power generation needs.

The new reservoir could block the flow of the river for a period of 26-28 days during the low season (January-February), thus the project will make a drop of 7000 cubic feet per second per day in Pakistani water supply during the period. It would essentially result into 26-28 percent decrease in water supply to Pakistan in the winters, thus her Rabi crop will suffer.

The project would increase Indian storage capacity in Jammu and Kashmir to 1,64,000 acre-feet, which is higher than the permissible levels.

Though for last many years India is desirous of revising the treaty, but only recently Indian writers have started claiming more frequently that Pakistan is incapable of storing water granted to it by the treaty. They claim that due to Pakistan’s inability to tap this resource, precious water is flowing to the sea, while India which has the ability to harness it, is being prevented by the treaty from doing so. Thus, treaty should be revised.

Pakistani experts believe that any revision of the treaty would open a Pandora box, Pakistani Government is therefore urged to clearly read the Indian intentions and understand the negative after effects of revision of this treaty. Foregoing in view it is recommended that Pakistan should never subscribe to Indian idea of treaty revision.

The Pakistani Government by clearing suspicions of the smaller provinces should try to achieve a quick consensus for construction of big dams like Kalabagh. Some visible steps are recommended to be taken by the government to resolve the contentious issues like dam royalty etcetera. A formula is therefore suggested to be worked out for distributing the royalty of proposed big dams like Kalabagh among the provinces.

Through an effective media campaign the general public is suggested to be informed of the likely economic crunch and agricultural shortfalls, if no new dams are constructed. It should also be highlighted that it is not in interest of certain countries and groups of people to let the dams be constructed and for this reason disinformation is being spread among the people.

Despite Pakistan’s efforts to solve its water issue with India at bi-lateral level, India appears non-serious and has continued violating the clauses of Indus Waters Treaty. Pakistan should therefore raise all of its Indus Waters Treaty related issues at intentional forums and seek neutral expert’s decisions.

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