Indian Army Officer(Retd.)
Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has been under much debate and is being touted as an ultimate leverage to choke Pakistan, setting the stage for a call for use of water as a weapon. Former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf in his thesis at RCDS had identified water as the most likely flash point between India and Pakistan. More than the potential and morality of water as a weapon, it is the attendant capability in terms of dams and storage, which needs to be realistically appraised. The question that begs an answer is, even if we want to, can we do it? Any renegotiation of IWT is likely to bring in China and Afghanistan; also new issues like climate control. The answer lies in an ancient Chinese proverb, build your capability, bide your time, implying work within the treaty norms but utilise in-built provisions.
The World Bank brokered treaty signed in 1960, allocated rivers in two groups i.e., Eastern: Ravi, Beas and Sutlej amounting to 33 Million Acre Feet (MAF), entirely to India and Western: Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, 135 MAF, mainly to Pakistan. India has rights on western rivers in terms of ‘run of the river’ power projects, irrigation and flood control upto specified limits, which are shown in the tables. While our share prima-facie may appear skewed, utilisation is even more worrying. With a less water intensive horticulture based economy in Kashmir valley, potential really lies in hydro-power and inter basin transfer to quench water stressed Punjab and Haryana.
Analysis of eastern rivers reveals that every year, nearly a million acre feet of water flows out from Ravi to Pakistani Punjab and 1000 cusecs (0.0019 MAF) from Sutlej at Husainiwala. For using water as a leverage, it is important that we build the physical wherewithal for positive control as a strategic capability. This has been grossly lacking because of interstate disputes and it is to the credit of Central Government that in March 2017, it pushed the contending parties into an agreement. Dispute on Ravi has been with regard to Shahpur Kandi dam, since 1999. Punjab and J&K governments have not been able to resolve issues of compensation, power and water distribution. In a welcome development, project has been designated as centrally monitored one with 90% funding by Centre. Punjab has agreed to provide 180 MW of power at ₹3.50 per unit to J&K. In addition, Jammu region will get 1150 cusecs of water, boosting irrigation and enhancing the defence potential of Upper Tawi link canal. Armed with a positive nod from the new Punjab Government, Centre needs to ensure fast track and time bound execution. We should take this forward by harnessing minor rivers like Degh (Basantar), Ujh, Tarnah, and Bein as water increases obstacle potential in strategically important Shakargarh bulge and aids infiltration into Samba-Kathua corridor.
Sutlej is a is not a major problem with reasons for water flowing to Pakistan being due to leakage because of lack of maintenance of antiquated sluice gates at Husainiwala and silting of Harike reservoir. Once again, the central government has brokered a much delayed agreement and now Rajasthan and Punjab have agreed to fund their respective shares. This has to be followed up with de-weeding Hycinth from Harike, which has gobbled up approximately 80% of the storage capacity. Repairs of head works and de-silting of all reservoirs, Gobind Sagar (Bhakra), Maharana Rana Pratap Sagar (Pong) and Ranjit Sagar (Thein) are overdue. There is a strong case for raising of Ecology (Dredging) TA battalions for de-silting to augment storage, which can be utilised for inter-basin transfer and flood control. It may be relevant to mention that push forward on clearances has been assisted by the Army flagging the issue repeatedly and providing impartial data with evidence.
Western rivers for us mainly are Chenab and Jhelum as Indus has very limited potential. Dynamism manifesting in recent clearances to Sawalkot, Pakad, Dul and Bursar on Chenab should lead to a mission mode approach. The ‘go-ahead’ to fill Kishenganga storage is another welcome move and is an appropriate message to the Chinese engaged in competitive hydrographics at Neelum valley project for Pakistan. It’s time, we accelerate Tulbul project on Jhelum for flood control and navigation, building on the only issue of convergence amongst opinion makers in Valley. There is a need to improve silt disposal of existing reservoirs on Chenab, Salal, Baglihar and Dulhasti, and especially Salal, which is because of sub-optimal design agreement.
Mercifully, our hydrographers have catered for such upgradation. Envisaged projects are well within our allocated share and we should continue to execute our plans disregarding delaying tactics by Pakistan. Despite huge technological challenges, it is time to examine possibility of inter-basin transfer of some of our balance share (approximately 20,000 cusecs or 0.04 MAF) from Chenab to Ravi-Beas through tunnels to avert a looming water crisis in Northern region. India with 17% of world population has only 4% water share and a storage of barely 90 days compared to two years in some countries.
A popular Pakistani folk ditty describes the centrality of water in Pak Punjab, “Ravi vichon waghan teen naharan, do sukiyan, teh teeji waghe hi nah (from Ravi flow, three canals, two are dry and third one doesn’t even flow)”. In a water stressed economy with ground water receding to alarming levels, we need to build our capability on a war footing to include dams, reservoirs and also maintain existing ones to harness legitimate share of water to exercise positive control. While dams are not in sync with new ecological narratives yet they have their strategic relevance as China is planning a bouquet of three dams on Indus for Pakistan as part of CPEC. In times to come, for keeping its canals flowing, Pakistan should be forced to introspect and improve its relations with its upper riparian neighbour.