Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh tweeted over the weekend that Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir had signed a “historic” agreement on the Shahpur Kandi project, which would be completed in three years and would generate 207 MW power and irrigate 95,000 acres of land “for our farmers”. Power Minister Gurpreet Singh Kangar subsequently said Shahpur Kandi was as vital to Punjab as the Bhakra and Ranjit Sagar Dam projects, and would allow India to utilise fully the water of the Ravi as per the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan.
The genesis of the Shahpur Kandi project can be traced to a 1979 agreement between Chief Ministers Parkash Singh Badal and Sheikh Abdullah of Punjab and J&K respectively, for the Ranjit Sagar (Thein) Dam, to be built on the Ravi on the border of the two states. To optimise the utilisation of the water, a second dam was to come up at some distance downstream, at Shahpur Kandi in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation of the Ranjit Sagar dam in 1982 and the project was completed in 1998; it, however, took until 2008 for the central government to declare Shahpur Kandi as a “national project”. The project cost then was pegged at Rs 2,285.81 crore. Work finally started in 2013, only to be stopped in 2014 after Jammu and Kashmir raised certain objections. The impasse lasted four years; the cost estimate has now been revised to Rs 2,793.54 crore.
Why J&K objected
In July 2004, during Amarinder Singh’s first stint as Chief Minister, the Assembly passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, unilaterally abrogating its water-sharing agreements with neighbouring states. The reason was its dispute with Haryana over the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, and was provoked by the Supreme Court’s directions to Punjab in 2002 and 2004 to complete the 214-km canal that would link the Sutlej with the Yamuna, and allow Haryana to use the waters of the Sutlej and its tributary Beas. In the light of the Assembly action, Jammu and Kashmir demanded a firm commitment from Punjab that its rights over the water and power from the Ranjit Sagar dam would be protected in perpetuity. Several rounds of talks were held, but no agreement was reached. The work that started in 2013 could not be sustained, and a fresh agreement in 2017, too, could not break the deadlock.
Having stated its commitment to ensure that India makes full utilisation of its “unrestricted” right over the waters of the “Eastern Rivers” — Ravi, Sutlej and Beas — of the Indus basin as per the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, 1960, the central government began to actively mediate between Punjab and J&K, in order to ensure that no water is allowed to flow unutilised into Pakistan. At a public meeting in Bathinda in late 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the waters of these rivers belonged to India and its farmers, and that a task force had been formed to ensure their optimum utilisation. The Punjab Irrigation Department estimates a nearly 12,000-cusec flow of Ravi water into Pakistan. Efforts mediated by Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari and monitored by the PMO, led to an agreement being signed on September 8 between the Chief Secretaries of Punjab and J&K, and the Indian Commissioner of Indus Waters.
Punjab government officials say the Shahpur Kandi project will provide a balancing reservoir to enable the upstream Ranjit Sagar Dam project to act as a peaking station, besides having its own generation capacity of 206 MW and irrigating 37,173 hectares of cultivable command area in Punjab and J&K. The installed capacity of the Ranjit Sagar Dam is 600 MW, but only 300 MW is currently generated at maximum output as the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC) system cannot handle more flow, and water would go waste to Pakistan if generation is sought to be upped. With the construction of the Shahpur Kandi dam, a gross storage capacity of 12,071 hectare metres would be provided, so it would be possible to generate 600 MW at Ranjit Sagar without letting any water downstream of Shahpur Kandi. The flow of water from the Shahpur Kandi dam would be regulated to utilise the entire water for fields in Punjab and J&K through UBDC system and the J&K canal from the Madhopur Headworks in Pathankot.
Gains for J&K
J&K will get 20% of the power generated through the project at Rs 3.40 per unit with prospective effect. J&K is entitled to 0.69 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the Ravi, of which only 0.215 MAF is being utilised currently. Following the agreement, Kathua and Samba and some parts of Jammu district will benefit, as agricultural land in the Kandi areas, upstream and downstream along the Jammu-Pathankot national highway in Samba and Kathua districts, will be irrigated. While the project will be implemented by Punjab, a tripartite team headed by a Member, Central Water Commission (CWC), and comprising the Chief Engineers of the two states, will monitor it.