Jammu & Kashmir

Power point

Print edition : May 31, 2013

The 330-megawatt Kishanganga Hydroelectric Power Project in Bandipora distrcit. Photo: nissar ahmad

The State points to the Indus Water Treaty for its severe power deficit and demands compensation from the Centre.

FACING serious criticism over the acute power shortage in the State, particularly in Kashmir Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir government has upped the ante on the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a water-sharing agreement between India and Pakistan. In April, the Omar Abdullah government renewed its demand for compensation not only from the Central government but also from Pakistan for the losses incurred by the State since 1960 on account of the restrictions imposed by the treaty on harnessing river waters for power generation and irrigation.

The State Cabinet met in April and decided to hire a private consultancy firm, M/S Halcrow India Limited, to assess the losses incurred by the State in the past five decades.

While the concerns of Jammu and Kashmir are well articulated but not taken into consideration, the silent “war” between the two signatories of the treaty has not gone unnoticed. Under the IWT, India has exclusive rights over the waters of the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej, before they enter Pakistan, while the riparian country has claim over the waters of the Chenab, the Jhelum and the Indus, which flow through Jammu and Kashmir. The main grievance of the State is that the treaty has deprived it of a huge hydroelectric potential. The treaty has made it difficult for the State to harness the waters of the rivers that flow through its territory for irrigation, power generation or navigation as the waters stand allocated to Pakistan. The construction of power projects on the Chenab in the Doda region and on the Kishanganga (which is called the Neelum when it enters Pakistan), a tributary of the Jhelum, in Baramulla are bitter examples of the troubles caused by the provisions of the treaty. First, a no-objection certificate has to be obtained from Pakistan, but thereafter the complaints against the construction of dams never cease. In the case of the run-of-the-river Baglihar power project on the Chenab, the Indus Water Commission of Pakistan made several visits to the project site and the issue was settled only at the intervention of the World Bank. (The IWT provides for the appointment of a neutral expert by the World Bank as a last option to resolve issues relating to river waters.)

Similarly, the World Bank intervened in the case of the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project (KHEP) and gave a “clean chit” to India to go ahead with the construction. In February, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague upheld India’s right to divert water from the Kishanganga to a power plant in the Jhelum basin. Pakistan’s argument was that the KHEP would affect the Neelum-Jhelum project constructed by it downstream of the Kishanganga project.

Even as India weighed the option of abrogating the IWT during “Operation Prakaram”, launched in the wake of the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament House, legal opinions differed within the Government of India and among international experts. The treaty, which has survived three armed conflicts, may be in need of some amendments.

While arbitrating between the two countries over the Baglihar issue, Raymond Lafitte, an expert from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said in his 116-page report: “It appears that the treaty is not particularly well developed with regard to its provisions on sediment transport. This is not criticism: the treaty reflects the status of technology on reservoir sedimentation in 1950s. In 1960, the phenomenon of reservoir sedimentation was not recognised everywhere to its full degree of significance. Moreover, it was only 20 years later, in 1980, that the concept of integrated reservoir sedimentation management began to be clear and coherent.”

With divergent views emerging over the treaty in both India and Pakistan, the call for compensation for losses incurred as a result of the IWT has grown louder in Jammu and Kashmir. Debates in the State Assembly have been dominated by such demands. In fact, on March 3, 2003, the Assembly passed a resolution asking New Delhi to reconsider the treaty to safeguard the interests of the State.

According to an estimate, the State suffers an annual loss of Rs.6,000 crore on account of the treaty because the State cannot store water for generating electricity or tap the rivers for irrigational needs. Under the treaty, the State can store water to the extent of 493 million cubic metres on the Indus in Ladakh, 18,502 million cubic metres on the Jhelum in Kashmir and 20,969 million cubic metres on the Chenab in the Jammu division. In Kashmir, only the waters of the tributaries of the Jhelum can be stored.

According to a report by the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Corporation, “the State is facing an acute problem in harnessing its hydroelectric potential” because of the restrictions imposed by the IWT. It said the annual loss in Baglihar alone was Rs.265 crore and that the total losses incurred in the Chenab basin was over Rs.3,325 crore.

Jammu and Kashmir has the potential to generate 20,000 megawatt of power but it generates only 2,365 MW. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) generates the bulk of this power, about 1,560 MW, and pays a royalty of just 12 per cent to the State. While the stipulations in the IWT limit the potential for generation, the NHPC’s hold over power projects limits the benefits of power generation reaching the people. Faced with a huge power deficit, the State spends Rs.3,600 crore annually on purchase of power from other States.

While the ruling National Conference (N.C.)-Congress combine has intensified the “struggle” to get the State’s share of waters back and has even appointed a consultant, no formal request has been made to the Centre to renegotiate the treaty.

In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha by G.N. Rattanpuri of the N.C., the then Union Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said: “No State government has ever requested the Central government to renegotiate this treaty or assess the losses and compensate the State accordingly, ever since it was inked.” This means that the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been crying itself hoarse over the issue, also did not make a concrete effort to reopen the negotiations on the subject with the Centre when it was in power.

Despite a huge potential to generate power, Jammu and Kahsmir is fast emerging as an energy-deficit State. The latest Economic Survey reveals that in 2012, only 23.22 per cent of the required power was generated within the State while the rest was imported. “There does not seem to be a considerable improvement in the situation,” the report says. According to a State government official, who did not want to be named, the energy deficit in Jammu and Kashmir was the highest among all the States in the northern and central regions. Of the identified potential of 16,000 MW in the State, the total energy tapped is 15 per cent—1,680 MW in the Central sector by the NHPC and 760.46 MW in the State sector. The peak-hour demand daily in the State had shot up to 2,600 MW, the official added. In the absence of adequate generation, the State purchases around 1,400 MW of power from the northern grid. The lack of reforms in the sector and the State’s inability to improve generation capacity are stated to be the main reasons for the unimpressive growth.

The “struggle” to get back the power projects from the NHPC has intensified in recent years. Shakeel Qalandar, a prominent member of civil society who has spearheaded the agitation on this, says, “It is shameful on the part of the Government of India that despite having the potential to generate more than 30,000 MWs of power, we have to purchase electricity for our daily requirements.” “Let the NHPC return the projects which produce 1,680 MW of power,” he said and added that this, in addition to the 761 MW the State sector generates, is enough to meet the daily requirement of 2,600 MW.