Two days after he reached out to the people of Pakistan and urged them to wage a war against poverty, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told top officials, who had gathered Monday to review implementation of the 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty, that “rakt aur paani ek saath nahin beh sakta” (blood and water cannot flow together).
Moving to mount pressure on Pakistan in the wake of the Uri attack, the government decided that the meeting of the Indus water commissioners of the two countries can “only take place in an atmosphere free from terror”. This means that the meetings of the commissioners, held twice a year, stand suspended with immediate effect. Since 1960, the water commissioners have met 112 times.
New Delhi also decided to maximise the potential of India’s use of water on the three western rivers — Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — in the areas of hydro-power, irrigation and storage, and agreed to review the “unilateral suspension” of the Tulbul navigation project on the Jhelum in Kashmir. The project was suspended in 2007 as a goodwill gesture after Pakistan’s objection.
The government decided to “move expeditiously” on the three power projects on the Chenab river — Pakaldul which is under construction, and Sawalkot and Bursar which are in advanced stages of planning.
“The message which we want to convey is that don’t take India for granted,” sources said. Asked whether abrogation of the treaty was discussed at the meeting, sources said, “We can tell you what has been agreed upon.”
Meanwhile, India’s Indus water commissioner and officials from the Ministry of External Affairs left Monday for Washington to attend a meeting with the World Bank that brokered the Indus treaty.
Officials said the visit related to discussions on the Kishanganga hydel project in Kashmir over which Pakistan had dragged India to the International Court of Arbitration. That case was decided in India’s favour, but Pakistan has again sought the help of the World Bank. Pakistani officials are also travelling to Washington.
Sources said though the visit was planned much before the Uri attack, it would not be surprising that the latest developments come up for discussions at the meetings in Washington. “This was not the agenda, but how can you now avoid it,” an official said.
Kishanganga is one of the three major disputes between the two countries on the treaty, the other two being the Baglihar dam on Chenab and the Tulbul project on Wullar lake, both in Jammu and Kashmir. Baglihar also required World Bank mediation and was settled in India’s favour.
Monday’s meeting by the Prime Minister comes in the wake of demands for the government to walk out of the Indus Waters Treaty.
The treaty gave India full rights over the waters of the eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. In return, India had to let the western rivers — Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — flow “unrestricted” to Pakistan. India could use the waters of western rivers as well, but only in a “non-consumptive” manner. It could use it for domestic purposes, and even for irrigation and hydropower production, but only in the manner specified in the treaty.
After the meeting that lasted an hour and half, it was agreed that the Indian side needed to exploit the full potential of the western rivers according to provisions of the treaty. “India must use its rights to the fullest,” sources said. To underline the seriousness, the government also decided to set up an inter-ministerial task force which will comprise all relevant stakeholders. “It will be taken up with a sense of urgency,” sources said.
Reasoning that the beneficiaries of maximum use of the rivers will benefit the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially farmers of the state, sources cited a debate in the J&K assembly more than a decade ago when almost all political parties had called the treaty as unfair to the state. According to sources, estimated losses from the “unfair water-sharing” amount to Rs 6,000-6,500 crore annually.
Detailing the low use of water from the three western rivers by India, sources said that under the treaty, India can use waters that can irrigate land up to 13 lakh acres. But it has been only using water that can irrigate up to 8 lakh acres. So, sources said, this use can be scaled up to irrigate another 5 lakh acres.
For hydro-power, sources said that the three rivers have the potential of generating power upto 18,600 MW. However, it is currently producing only 3,034 MW. And, power projects of 2,526 MW are under construction, while another 5,846 MW projects are under advanced stages of approval.
“So, if you add all, we are either using or planning to use water that generate power up to 11,406 MW. That allows us to scale up till 18,600 MW — another 7,000 MW power can be generated,” sources said.
And for storage, sources said, India can store upto 3.6 million acre feet of water from these three rivers. But India has no storage capacity so far. “This storage capacity can also be built,” sources said.
Water is a hot-button issue for Pakistan and Islamabad has always raised the issue of “unfair water-sharing” from India in its dialogue. While India claims that it has always honoured its commitments under the 1960 treaty, Islamabad claims the opposite. The theme of water was put as part of the dialogue process at the insistence of Pakistan.
However, in this case, New Delhi said that they have only decided to follow the treaty and increase usage as part of its share. Sources said