India and Pakistan Dispute Water Use for Hydropower, Agriculture

Pakistan has said that India’s proposed hydroelectric project along the Kishanganga River violates the historic Indus Water Treaty.

A proposed hydroelectric project on the Kishanganga River, a tributary of the Himalayan Indus River allocated to Pakistan under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, would redirect water for 330 megawatts of Indian power production.

Photo by Farooq
A proposed hydroelectric project on the Kishanganga River, a tributary of the Himalayan Indus River allocated to Pakistan under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, would redirect water for 330 megwatts of Indian power production.

Pakistan has begun formal arbitration against an Indian hydroelectric project proposed along the Kishanganga River in Kashmir that would violate the 50-year-old Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Proposed in March, the $US800 million project would redirect water that is used for agricultural production in Pakistan to generate 330 megawatts of energy in India. The Kishanganga River is a tributary to the Indus River, which was one of three eastern Himalayan rivers awarded to Pakistan for unlimited use under the 1960 treaty. The treaty also designated the Jhelum and the Chenab Rivers to Pakistan with unlimited use, while the three eastern Himalaya rivers–the Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi–were awarded to India.

Both parties have nonconsumptive rights to the opposing country’s three rivers, with India having restricted hydropower and agricultural rights to the Pakistan rivers, minding that large amounts of water are not retained or redirected. There are currently more than 30 other Indian hydroprojects on the Indus at varying degrees of development, all of which have been challenged by Pakistan.

When a point of contention arises, such as the current arbitration panel requested by Pakistan, each country selects two members and the remaining three are selected by both countries–and if an agreement cannot be made, the World Bank will mediate. According to Asian News International, Pakistani members of this Permanent Indus Water Commission contested the Kishanganga project along with a 25-year-old barrage proposal to make the Indus more navigable during the summer, at a meeting in New Delhi last week.

Some experts argue that this water, which comes from Himalaya rivers, will only become more disputed as climate change affects glacial flow.

In the past 30 years, water access per capita in Pakistan has fallen from nearly 3000 to 1500 cubic meters per person, according to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. India blames Pakistan’s water scarcity on climate change and poor water management, while Pakistan claims India’s hydropower plans are exacerbating existing regional problems, like those in the agricultural industry.

The Pakistani region of Punjab, which is southeast of Kashmir, has been plagued with outstanding drought this year that has stalled the productivity of maze, rice, sugar cane and wheat, which are extensively grown there, Dr. Upmanu Lall , director of the Columbia University Water Center, told Circle of Blue’s J. Carl Ganter. Many farmers are now only growing rice for personal use because it’s so water-intensive. Further shortages have made farmers pump groundwater since irrigation canals, which were once full year-round, are now empty three months per year.

“The groundwater tables in this area have been dropping. . . Farmers who were used to getting water at a depth of 2 to 5 meters are now going from 20 to 50 meters below surface to get water,” said Lall. “For the farmers to make money on this, they argue that they need to have subsidies on a variety of things–primary among those is electricity for pumping. As the water levels drop, they require more subsidies.”

Under the treaty, both countries have state-appointed commissioners who work out water resource disagreements. If negotiations fail, a World Bank-appointed expert will mediate. The last time negotiations failed was in 2007, when India was instructed to make slight alterations to the design of the Bagilhar hydropower plant after Pakistan had protested it, according to the International Relations and Social Network (ISN).

Himalayas photos

3 replies
  1. Aisha Bauer says:

    It is WRONG and immoral to take water from people who are growing food to build hydro electric plants!
    I am an Indian and I support Pakistan’s right to water for cultivation!

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