After PM Narendra Modi Warned Pak, India Fast-Tracks Kashmir Hydropower Projects

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NEW DELHI:  India has fast-tracked hydro-power projects worth $15 billion in Kashmir in recent months, according to news agency Reuters, which based its report on three unnamed central and state officials. The acceleration by India ignores warnings from Islamabad that power stations on rivers flowing into Pakistan will disrupt water supplies.

The swift approval of projects that had languished for years came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested last year that sharing the waterways could be conditional on Pakistan clamping down on anti-India terrorists.

Pakistan has opposed some of these projects before, saying they violate a World Bank-mediated treaty on the sharing of the Indus river and its tributaries upon which 80 percent of its irrigated agriculture depends.

The schemes, the largest of which is the 1,856 MW Sawalkote plant, will take years to complete.

Six hydro projects in Kashmir have either cleared viability tests or the more advanced environment and forest expert approvals in the last three months, two officials in India’s Water Resources Ministry and the Central Electricity Authority said separately, according to Reuters.

Together, these projects on the Chenab river, a tributary of the Indus, would triple hydropower generation in Jammu and Kashmir from the current level of 3,000 MW, the biggest jump in decades, added the officials, declining to be named because the approvals had not yet been made public.

“We have developed barely one-sixth of the hydropower capacity potential in the state in the last 50 years,” the senior official at the Water Resources Ministry said. “Then one fine morning, you see we cleared six to seven projects in three months; it definitely raises concern in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s water supply is dwindling because of climate change, outdated farming techniques and an exploding population.

A 2011 report by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said Delhi could use these projects as a way to control Pakistan’s supplies from the Indus, seen as its jugular vein.

“The cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season,” it said.

India says the projects are “run-of-the-river” schemes that use the river’s flow and elevation to generate electricity rather than large reservoirs, and do not contravene the treaty.

PM Modi told a meeting of government officials on the Indus treaty last year that “blood and water cannot flow together”, soon after a deadly terror attack on the army base in Uri in Kashmir which left 19 people dead.

PM Modi’s message was two-fold, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said. Terrorism had to stop and India must fully utilise the economic potential available to it within the Indus treaty.

The projects that have won technical approvals in recent months are Sawalkote, Kwar, Pakal Dul, Bursar and Kirthai I and II.

“I say the way you look at these projects, it is not purely a hydro project. Broaden it to a strategic water management, border management problem, and then you put in money,” said Pradeep Kumar Pujari, the top ranking official in the Power Ministry.

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Most of the projects have been held up for at least a decade awaiting multiple clearances. Sawalkote, which was cleared by a government-constituted environment committee in January, was first given techno-economic approval in 1991.

It is now up for forest clearance from the state authorities, after which the government will finalise financing and begin construction.

Some projects like Pakal Dul were stuck in litigation, but that has been resolved, Jammu and Kashmir’s Power Minister Nirmal Singh told Reuters in the summer capital Srinagar. “Things are now in a position of take-off,” he said.

Environmental groups have questioned whether the government has followed proper procedures in fast-tracking projects located in a highly seismic area.

“It’s on one river, the Chenab, where you are doing so many projects. This is a very vulnerable region. It’s landslide-prone, it’s flash flood-prone, earthquake-prone,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People,

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said  India will be attending a regular meeting of the Indus Commission later this month in Lahore, even though a broader peace dialogue is on hold.

“It seems that finally India has realized the importance of this mechanism under the IWT (Indus Waters Treaty) for resolving water disputes related to the Indus water and its tributaries,” he claimed.

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