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Whose Waters Are They?

By Ubaid Mushtaq

21 May, 2014

Water provision has become a major area of intervention by the State in developing countries over recent years. The state, worldwide is considering or tackling reforms in their organisational, operational policy making and other implementation measures over the governance and management of water resources. Growing scarcity of water resources, whole spectra around energy crisis, increasing demand and differences over the water utilisation plus the burgeoning population and in particularly poor water management has resulted both in increase in demand for water resources and also put on some critical issues among users thereby, becoming a source of conflict and rivalries. With nearly 300 major watercourses shared by two or more states and ever-increasing demand on the world’s diminishing water resources (UNESCO 2003), there may be some justification in the assertion by certain commentators that “Water Wars” are imminent in the near future.

On this backdrop, the Indus Water treaty (IWT), brokered by the World Bank and signed by India and Pakistan on September 19, 1960 over the water sharing of Indus basin has in recent past threatened by many economic and political developments along with suffering a genuine discourse from some new players. There has been a huge disagreement over the treaty on distribution of potential gains and losses from new players and from many new dimensions. Striking in this particular profusion of claims, the recent demand for ‘Compensation’ by the government of J&K over the continuing losses due to the treaty and the move to quantify such losses suffered seems, to be making headway. Subsequently, considering the present problems regarding the Supply-Demand matrix of energy, ailing Agriculture sector, and future projections of energy demands in the state the time is ripe for its emendation and to solve this riddle of ‘meaningful share’. But, should it be simply based on the whole idea of ‘Compensation’ or zero sum game logic? Perhaps, the idea is to move beyond that.

Asserting Compensation Claims

Having withstood three Indo-Pak wars, the treaty is usually cited as a notable example of durability in adversity. Over the years, the treaty was persistent, owing to the fulfilment of the required water needs for both the countries. However, apparently, the main and inherent discord started manifesting over the hydroelectric power projects in Jammu and Kashmir.

Though, both countries already fought many legal battles for control over water resources, the most important Kashmiri narrative also took place in between bringing into question the provisions of the treaty and the principles on which it operates. According, to many estimates and studies the treaty has caused severe distress on the State’s economy. The latest Economic survey Report of J&K for the year 2013-14, also paints a dismal picture of States agricultural sector and food security scenario besides, mentioning of the already existing energy crisis. The exponential increase in food grain imports which went up to 10 lakh metric tonnes in 2012 is definitely a grave matter of concern. As per the Survey, a major constraint to the development of agriculture sector in the state is irrigation problem. Only 50% of the irrigation potential of the state has been harnessed so far. The survey also portrays that Irrigation facility revolves between, only 42% to 43% of the net area sown and as taking the average of the last 3 years into consideration irrigation facility is available to barely 43.2% of the net area sown and the remaining 56.78% is dependent on rain gods. Monsoon failure and subsequent drying of canals add to such risks. Since state is deficient in rainfall; and paddy is a major staple food crop which needs lot of water, the development of irrigation schemes becomes a primary need to improve the productivity of food grain production. However, the state’s irrigation potential is predominantly worst hit by certain provisions of IWT. In case of Kashmir region only, a meagre 0.5 MAF could be stored under general storage on Jhelum basin and that too only on various streams that form its tributaries. Taking prior permission from the Indus commission for every new irrigation scheme is also intricate in this matter. This dismal picture of the agriculture sector is also alarming in terms of food security. The constant increase in food grain imports which were as high as 5.03 lakh metric tons in 2002 to an alarming 10 lakh metric tons in 2012, almost double as against of 2002 is definitely not healthy for the state and their needs an important mechanism to overcome such problem.

Similarly, on the energy front their needs an immediate intervention. With the rapid population growth and increasing talk of industrialisation in the state, the future energy matrix, demands a high boost. According to Survey, only 21.91 % of the required power is generated within the State while the rest 78.08% has to be purchased from Northern Grid taking the state to spend around 3,600 crore annually. Similarly, during the year 2012-13 power purchased recorded an increase of 3.01%. The State is endowed with a huge potential of Renewable energy and particularly among them is hydroelectric power but, the total hydropower generated in the state till last year was just 1600.83 MW. Ironically the development in this sector has not been commensurate because of many reasons, primarily being IWT. The hydro-power potential in the state is of the order of 20,000 MW of which about 16,480 MW has been identified, and a mere 16% (of identified potential) has been exploited so far as the treaty disallows the state for any construction of storage reservoirs except on its run-of-river projects. The restrictions also limited to the water storage level. Moreover, the main power generating projects in the state have already become controversial due to design parameters.

But, considering this strong case of ‘lost benefits’ is it viable to demand for adequate ‘compensation’. Since, such incorporation of changes is also contested by various ecological implications and efficient downstream water flow arguments and above all climate change. As temperature rises, the Himalayan glaciers that feed the most important rivers of Indus are retreating at an accelerated rate. Thus, adding some new imperatives viable environmental concerns.

Environmental Implications

The IWT is particularly and historically based on classic engineering formulas only, however, with the changing perceptions around environmental viability and ecological concerns the potential collapse in Indus delta and grave ecological effects on the whole Indus basin is quite possible in near future. The Indus basin is under immense pressure and one of the most depleted basins in the world (Sharma et al 2010) and decreased water flow in basin particularly in downstream areas is a matter of concern. Some seasons, the water does not even reach to sea thus making it a closed basin (Molle et al 2010). The survival of the Mangroves of Indus delta is also a matter of concern, which is largely associated with perennial fresh water supplies from the Indus River. The Indus delta Mangroves are considered as unique in being the largest arid climate Mangroves in the world (Amjad 2007). Though, there have very few studies over the possible disastrous implications which have taken note of considerable loss of Mangrove forests in Pakistan both qualitatively and quantitatively over last few decades. The Indus delta mangrove ecosystem is primarily dependent upon silt-laden, fresh water discharges from the River Indus which is the only source for the above supplies. So, the necessary amount of fresh water is necessary to regulate the delta and recover some disastrous implications from dying fisheries, erosion etc.

Thus, from an ecological point of view, under global warming and changing climatic conditions it’s necessary to have out of the box thinking. Multiple factors will determine how the politics of energy and water will play out in the State. The arguments surrounding the ecological impacts, environmental losses and other threats to downstream will have to face trade-offs with competing arguments about the development of hydropower and growth of the State. So, if IWT is to be saved from political cul de sac, the treaty has to move beyond ‘zero sum logic’ of dividing water or ideas of traditional argument of potential benefits. For the state, the potential eco-system losses to downstream users can be put to have an excellent argument for environmental transactions on the Indus basin. Such potential benefits will not only help in eco-system preservation of Indus system but will also be presumed as developmental benefits for the state and to avoid any further ‘non-traditional security disaster”.

The way ahead

Sufficiency should be enough for everyone and forever. Increasing demand, scarcity of water resources among water utilisation problems has already paid a wave of potential conflict in near future. India and Pakistan have already shown such points of friction before and now more particularly with an increasing consciousness in J&K over the share in IWT; the region is haunted by many new spectrums. The Indus Water treaty though has travelled a landmark journey by surviving through three wars needs a revisit and fresh look from a Kashmiri perspective. The principle of sharing of net benefits and net costs should have to envisage on the basis of ecological calculations rather, than traditional valuation methods.

The increase in population, the rise of the urban middle class and ever increase in economy of cultural eventually has a major implications on food security and food demand in the State. Thus, a rapid investment in irrigation and energy sector is highly has also become a need of the hour. There immediately needs a significant change in increasing the area of agricultural land, in particular Perennial Staple Crops with more irrigation facilities. Improving irrigation facilities and giving other farm improvement plans besides other facilities to farmers will increase food crop productivity in the state. On the other side, the wide gap between demand and supply of energy need an immediate redressal. The best alternative in this context will be to develop small hydropower stations which are techno-economic viable schemes and have liberal financial norms from various financial institutions working through the policies of MNRE, GOI. However, in order to tackle all these pressing issues, an all-inclusive and overarching vision needs to be articulated at the State level and in particular through civil society groups.

Note: A short version of this article was published in Rising Kashmir newspaper

(Ubaid Mushtaq is with IIT Bombay, feedback at ubaidiust@gmail.com)


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