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India is working on exercising its rights to stop excess water flowing to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 to irrigate its own lands, Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said.

After nine years of negotiations, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, with the World Bank also being a signatory. The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of six rivers—Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.

The move to harvest excess water comes against the backdrop of India working on a plan to divert the waters of Ujh, which is one of the main tributaries of the Ravi river that flows into Pakistan. This is also of strategic importance to India, given that control over river water flow acts as a force multiplier during times of aggression.

Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
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Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. (Photo: Mint)

“Apart from that, rivers which flow from our territory and go to Pakistan, what they have got as per the mandate of the Indus Waters Treaty, even there we have potential. One, we have the right to stop the water required to irrigate two lakh hectares of land, which we are working on to exercise our rights. We are searching for the potential, exercising it and planning it," Shekhawat said in an interview.

India’s plans to fully utilize its share of water under the treaty assumes strategic importance against the backdrop of China developing the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the region.

“We got the waters of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej; they got the waters of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. The water of the first three rivers and their tributaries that we get is our absolute right. If we construct irrigation projects on those waters and tap their potential, Pakistan can’t raise a question, which they try to do, but that’s illegal," he added.

With an eye on Pakistan, India is also expediting other strategically important hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir such as 850-megawatt (MW) Ratle, 800MW Bursar, 1,000MW Pakal Dul, 624MW Kiru and 540MW Kwar in the Union territory following the reorganization of the terror-hit state.

“Now, of our three rivers of the Indus system, there are some tributaries whose water remains untapped because of geographical adversities and flows into Pakistan. It has a major river called Ujh, which has five tributaries. Ujh’s confluence is along with the Ravi river downstream of Madhopur, which is our last diversion structure, where we have a barrage. After that, the Ravi river enters and exits Pakistan’s territory 17 times. It crisscrosses like this, and at most of the places, it’s Ravi that is the line of division between the two countries. So, because of that, one couldn’t get an appropriate location to divert it," said Shekhawat.

The Ujh multi-purpose project is to have a 186MW capacity for electricity generation and will also provide water to irrigate 16,743 hectares and 20 cusecs for drinking.

“It’s our water. It’s our farmers’ share of waters; it’s our field’s waters; it’s our water to quench our people’s thirst. No one has the right to any objection to it. We are working on that. We have prepared its DPR (detailed project report). So that the water gets released in a controlled way and produces electricity, and also gets diverted, we are working on stage two of the plan for its diversion and preparing its DPR," added Shekhawat.

Pakistan has previously objected to India’s hydroelectric power project plans. While it had raised its objections on the 330MW project on the river Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in India’s favour in 2013. Post the judgement, India expedited its construction, with Prime Minister Modi in May 2018 dedicating NHPC Ltd’s hydropower project to the nation. Pakistan had also raised objections on the 850 MW Ratle, 1,000MW Pakal Dul and 48MW Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects on River Chenab.

“Simultaneously, we can build and do run-of-the-river hydroelectricity projects on them. That is again our right given by the treaty. So, we are also working on that. When we work on the hydroelectricity potential and (on rivers such as) Kishanganga, then they have a problem that we will divert the water. All their objections are apprehension-based. That’s the reason why when we go in the real terms (in international arbitration), we always win and they lose," Shekhawat said.

NHPC recently formed a joint venture company called Ratle Hydroelectric Power Corp. Ltd to implement the strategic project in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Under the Indus Waters Treaty, there were six rivers which were divided between both the countries. I don’t wish to go into that controversy that at that time in what context…While our geographical area was five times, if we divide the water, we got 32%, and they got 68%. Till date, I have been unable to understand the rationale behind that. Since that’s not the context today, let’s leave that," Shekhawat said.

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