Kishanganga Power Project

A day before the project was to be formally inaugurated; Pakistan’s foreign ministry set the tune for what could be a long drawn out dispute

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: May 26 2018 12:19AM | Updated Date: May 26 2018 12:19AM
Kishanganga Power ProjectFile Photo

Kishanganga power project inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday the week before remains mired in dispute. Pakistan’s objections over the building of power project continue. The $864 million dam built by GOI subsidiary—National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) is located 5 km north of Bandipore. It is a 330 MW project with three units (3 x 110 MW).  A day before the project was to be formally inaugurated; Pakistan’s foreign ministry set the tune for what could be a long drawn out dispute. The foreign ministry statement read, “Pakistan is seriously concerned about the inauguration [of the Kishan¬ganga plant].” Subsequently, Pakistan raised the matter with World Bank, which has a role in settling disputes, arising from time to time vis-à-vis Indus Water Treaty, signed by India and Pakistan in 1960.

As per the treaty, India exercises control over three eastern rivers on Indus Basin—Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The treaty gives Pakistan control over the waters of western rivers of the Indus Basin--Chenab, Indus and Jhelum Rivers. There is a rider however over Pakistan’s control of western rivers. India can use the waters of these rivers in ‘non-consumptive’ ways. It could be taken to mean ‘run of the river’ hydroelectric projects on the western rivers stand within the provisions of the treaty, provided they do not change the course of the river and do not deplete the water level downstream. Pakistan says that the project stands in violation of both these provisions by changing the course of the river and depleting the water level.

Pakistan has been objecting to the project, since 2010, after India started the work on the project in 2007. The matter was taken by Pakistan to Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which stayed the project for three years. The Court ruled in India’s favour in 2013 by labelling the project as run of the river project, hence within the provisions of Indus Water Treaty. The court ruling however left room for Pakistan to keep on contesting the case. It ruled that India was under an obligation to “construct and operate” the Kishanganga dam in such a way that it “maintains a minimum flow of water in the river”. Subsequently, India declared lowering the height of the dam from the planned 98m to 37m. Noting these facts in Pakistan newspaper ‘Dawn’ on 20th May, 2018, Anwar Iqbal in a news-report relates that Pakistan claims evidence to prove that India was violating the treaty as well as the court’s verdict.

In 1916, Pakistan asked World Bank for court of arbitration, while India was willing to settle for neutral experts on the plea of Pakistani objections being technical in nature. Pakistan objected to neutral experts, pleading that their verdict wouldn’t be legally binding. Though the World Bank acting as honest broker initiated both processes; it halted proceeding since neither of the two countries was willing to withdraw its proposal. It hangs there, with the last meeting conducted in September 2017 to settle the dispute. With India announcing commissioning of all three units of Kishanganga, Pakistan has notified the World Bank to ensure that India abides by the treaty. ‘Dawn’ news-report says that the delegation, led by Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf, will reiterate Pakistan’s demand to constitute an international court of arbitration.  

Kishanganga—a Jhelum tributary follows a serpentine course in its flow. In Pakistan administered Kashmir, it is called Neelum. The Jhelum tributary flows through areas of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) and Astore, before it enters Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) at Gurez and further on it renters Pakistan administered Kashmir.  Pakistan fears that Kishanganga dam will give India control over a river that flows from Pak into IaK and then re-enters Pak. Unable to affect the Indian side to the desired extent, Pakistan started building its own project on the Neelum river and it was only last month that Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi inaugurated the first unit of the Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Project. 

Whatever the result of Indo-Pak contention over Kishanganga project, it has resulted in ripples locally. Wide section of Kashmir civil society in IaK resent what is often termed the exploitation of state’s hydroelectric resources by GOI subsidiary—NHPC. While there is a popular clamour over return of power projects under NHPC control, more and more projects like the Kishanganga projects are being handed over to NHPC for execution and control.  Modi’s word on inauguration that, "This region cannot only become self-sufficient in power but also produce for other regions of the country," has hardly any buyers in Kashmir, as JK state continues to pay Rs 4000 crores plus every year to buy additional power for its needs, while the hydroelectricity produced from state’s waters continues to feed the national grid for distribution to other states. Besides serious concern is being expressed whether legal norms in terms of land use are being abided by, while executing these projects. As per article 256 (2) applicable to JK State, land has to be acquired legally by central agencies for execution of works undertaken in the state.  

Kishanganga has also raised serious environmental concerns. Locals in Bandipore district have demonstrated time and again against environmental hazards. Chemical disturbances have been reported in the water around project site. It has been declared unsafe for human consumption due to high concentration of dissolved solids and unsafe alkaline levels. It clearly indicates inadequate environmental studies before the project was taken up for execution.    

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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