Indus water row resurfaces

By Ishfaq-ul-hassan
Published: Monday 31 March 2003

in a major development, the Jammu and Kashmir (j&k) legislative council has passed a resolution urging the Union government to review the Indus Water Treaty in the best interests of the people of the state.

The motion was tabled in the upper house by National Conference (nc) legislator Deepinder Kaur. It was seconded by former agriculture minister and Kaur's party colleague Ram Paul. They demanded a rethink on the treaty and compensation to the state in lieu of losses it has had to suffer by adhering to the pact. The state minister for public health, engineering and irrigation, Qazi Mohammad Afzal, echoed their view. "Since the treaty has provided substantial benefits to states other than j&k in terms of additional irrigation potential and generation of power, our needs should be taken care of by the Centre," the minister observed.

Afzal pointed out that Kashmir could have increased its irrigated area by about 40,500 hectares (ha), over and above the 33,589 ha being irrigated before 1960. He reminded the Centre that the irrigation and power potential of Ravi river was supposed to be shared between Punjab and j&k.

On its part, the Union government appears guarded. Senior joint commissioner in the Indus wing of the Union ministry of water resources, G A Ranganathan, says that they have yet to receive a copy of the resolution.

Under the Indus Water Treaty, New Delhi has relinquished its claim on three eastern rivers -- Jhelum, Chenab and Indus (all flowing from Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan). In exchange, it has got control of three western rivers -- Satluj, Beas and Ravi.

The treaty prevents the consumption of water otherwise owned by the state. Signed on September 19, 1960, it was brokered by the World Bank. It involved Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the uk and the us who were part of a collateral Indus Water Basin Development Fund Agreement.

Experts feel that if the treaty is revoked, the Pakistani economy will be hit hard. It is believed that if the flow of water from the Indus system to Pakistan is reduced by even one per cent, it could lead to the starvation of 14 lakh people who are dependent on these rivers for irrigating vast swathes of land.

Last year, when the nc was in power in j&k, the state government had shot off a missive to the Union government asking it to take a fresh look at the agreement. According to an estimate provided by Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami in the state assembly, Kashmir suffers a loss of Rs 6500 crore annually due to this treaty.

"We cannot set up dams and power stations on the three rivers. We cannot construct a barrage for irrigation purposes. Vast stretches of land remain parched because we cannot store water. The Centre has signed the treaty in the interest of the nation, but at the cost of the people of j&k. They should, therefore, compensate us for it," Tarigami had said in the lower house in 2002.

There controversy took a new turn recently when the Pakistan government objected to a project being executed by j&k on Chenab river.

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