As New Delhi contemplates a review of the Indus Water Treaty with Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a high-level meeting in New Delhi to show the government’s resolve in this regard, the people of J&K aren’t against the move. In fact, the dominant opinion in the state sees in the government’s rethink on the treaty an opportunity to undo the injustice that the treaty has meted out to the state.
“The state government will support whatever decision is taken by the Central Government on Indus Waters Treaty,” BJP leader and J&K Deputy Prime Minister Nirmal Singh said. “The treaty has caused huge loss to Jammu and Kashmir as the people of the state cannot fully utilise the waters of various rivers, particularly Chenab in Jammu, for agricultural and other activities.”
Senior PDP leader and state Education Minister Naeem Akhter also seeks a review of the treaty to the advantage of J&K. “India and Pakistan have to address the concerns of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh under the treaty,” Akhter told Narada News. “J&K should be compensated for the losses the state suffers as a result of the pact”.
Similarly, National Conference leader and former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed the treaty an “abomination”.
“It (IWT) was an abomination and should never have gone through. J&K has suffered long on its account but this government isn’t going to scrap it,” Omar tweeted.
In 2003, Jammu & Kashmir Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution in 2003 asking India and Pakistan to review the treaty which had not taken care of the development needs of the state, which hosts the three rivers whose waters are allowed to flow unrestricted to Pakistan.
According to the 1960 World Bank-brokered treaty, India got control over three eastern rivers – Beas, Ravi and Sutlej – while as the waters of the three western rivers – Indus, Jhelum, Chenab – which also originate from India were to be allowed to flow to Pakistan with India entitled to use some of the water for irrigation and run-of-the-mill hydro-electric power stations.
Under the treaty, J&K can use only limited waters of its rivers for power generation and lift irrigation. The state cannot build reservoirs or dams on its rivers without prior approval of Pakistan. Nor can it construct any barrage for irrigation. In past, the attempt to do so has run into problems with Pakistan. One such project is Wullar Barrage in North Kashmir which if allowed to be built could help irrigate a vast catchment area of the lake. The treaty has thus severely restricted the scope for agricultural expansion in the state. But for the treaty, the state, experts claim, could have increased its total irrigation area by one lakh acres.
J&K has always wanted to regain control over its water resources, giving rise to a contentious political discourse around the subject. For example, the ruling PDP has sought re-negotiation of the agreements with the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation, which exclusively owns the power projects on the rivers in the state. The estimated annual loss to the state because of the treaty has been pegged at Rs 6,000-6,500 crore.
Writes the state’s leading English daily Greater Kashmir in its editorial: “Article XII of the IWT provides for a modification of the treaty and this is where the grievances of the people of Jammu Kashmir can be addressed”. The editorial seeks “exclusive rights over waters of Ravi as a compensation for losses to the state”.
“Ravi constitutes the border between Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. Exclusive right of utilisation of its water will in great way enhance water resources of the state”.
Similarly, the editorial in Kashmir Observer reads:” Shall Kashmiris support any review of the treaty? Very likely so. But it will be a very nuanced support than siding with one country in the emerging water war between India and Pakistan”. The editorial calls for a reconsideration of the treaty. “Yes, review the treaty but not to starve neighbouring country of water, an act which can lead to war, but for a fair deal to J&K”.