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River waters: The next testing ground

The Chenab may be the new Kashmir. New Delhi is bracing for aggressive claims by Islamabad that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2010 23:45 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

The Chenab may be the new Kashmir.

New Delhi is bracing for aggressive claims by Islamabad that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty. Over the past few weeks Pakistani speakers, ranging from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to the head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, have publicly said when it comes to India, “Kashmir and water” are Pakistan's main concerns.

The heart of the problem is that for environmental reasons the amount of water coming down all the Punjab rivers is decreasing. Pakistani mismanagement has aggravated the problem. The key fallout: the Chenab runs low in winter, stunting the rabi wheat crop.

Islamabad finds it politically useful to point fingers at New Delhi even though this may endanger the 1950 treaty, an otherwise shining example of bilateral cooperation.

An additional reason Pakistan has begun drumming up the issue is that India has begun a “run-of-the-river” hydel project along the Kishenganga, a tributary of the Jhelum that runs through Kashmir, and is surveying for possible reservoirs along the Chenab.

Both actions are well within India’s rights under Article 3 of the treaty. Neither affects the amount of water Pakistan gets.

However, Pakistani has in the past found loud complaints have successfully led to India delaying such projects.

New Delhi believes that it under-uses its rights under the treaty.

n India is allowed to store up to 3.6 million acre feet (maf) from “western rivers” — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. It has not touched a drop of this yet. The Tulbul barrage, also denounced by Pakistan, is a run-of-the- river project. If built, the Chenab reservoirs would cause a temporary diversion.

n India is allowed to tap all the 33 maf of the treaty's eastern rivers — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. However, it still allows 3 maf to flow into Pakistan. The treaty even allows India to compensate for this 3 million maf with water from the western rivers. It has not attempted to do so.

n India is allowed 13.43 maf of western rivers' water for irrigation but only uses 7.9 maf.

Nonetheless, Pakistan has complained against the Chenab reservoir at the Indus commission last year. India has yet to accept the complaint. It may be interjected into the dialogue.

New Delhi believes it has a watertight case regarding all Pakistan complaints. But Islamabad is unlikely to let go. It wants to avoid explaining why north Punjab is depriving the other Pakistani states of water.

It is also seen as a rallying cry against India. As Lashkar leader Abdur Rehman Makki said two weeks ago, “Kashmir had become a cold issue. But by denying Pakistan water, India has ensured that every farmer in Punjab is lining up… ready to overrun India.”