India can partially block water in winters when flows ebb
Out of the three western rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab that belong to Pakistan under 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, India can only effectively block water of the latter through the existing infrastructure for 7-8 days in the winter season when the flows ebb, according to government officials.
They said India is exploring ways to restrict flows of western rivers in the wake of an ongoing tension between Pakistan and India following the recent killing of Indian soldiers in the occupied Kashmir.
Officials termed a possible Indian move as a clear disregard to an international agreement, which is also legally binding. They said a reduction of even a single drop of water in the river flows, coming from Kashmir, would be considered as crossing of a red line and would invite strongest possible response from Pakistan, which will never tolerate blockage of the river water flows come what may.
The Indus Waters Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan after the World Bank-brokered negotiations that lasted almost a decade following the blockage of water by India soon after independence.
Under the treaty, the three western rivers went to Pakistan while control over three eastern rivers - the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej - was given to India. According to Indian media, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi explored ways to utilise maximum waters of western rivers in a bid to deprive Pakistan of its share under the Indus Waters Treaty.
Indian media said Modi-led government had decided on the maximum use of three of the rivers, governed by Pakistan under the treaty. An Indian TV channel, quoting an anonymous official, reported that the Modi government planned to use the western rivers to benefit farmers of Jammu and Kashmir. It reported that the decision was to store water and maximise irrigation area.
With this the Indian government would be able to irrigate land in Jammu and Kashmir for nearly 0.6 million hectares. Responding to this assertion, Pakistan officials said India is already using some of western rivers’ water for irrigation purposes through existing infrastructure built before or under the treaty.
A source said this leverage of altering rivers flow cannot be augmented in a few years, “so a significant change in quantity of water is a least probability in present circumstances.” The sources said the impact of drop in water flows can effectively be diluted due to water storage infrastructure built on the River Indus and Jhelum on Pakistani side that can regulate fluctuating flows very smoothly.
The sources, however, said India can only somehow hamper river flows of Chenab. Owing to plain terrain, there is no water storage site on the River Chenab in the country, leaving agriculture sector exposed to the fluctuations in river flows—whether manmade or natural.
Officials in Pakistan used to control these erratic flows through reverse regulation, a term used in this case for efficiently spreading water of the River Jhelum for supplementing any dip in flows of Chenab.
It requires a constant involvement of irrigation officials in the Punjab and they are making it possible with the success. Talking about the impact of existing infrastructure established by India in occupied Kashmir on the River Chenab flows, an official said New Delhi has a storage capacity at Salal and Baglihar hydropower projects.
He said India can stop water of Chenab entirely during December, January or February by storing water at lake of Salal Dam. Having storage capacity of around 60,000 acre feet, India can impound all of Chenab river flows in Salal lake for 7-8 days, which used to come down to 4,000 to 5,000 cusecs in severe winter period. “It means India can block 30,000 cusecs of water in total so there could be zero flows of Chenab for about a week towards Pakistan in the said period,” he said.
As water requirement for irrigation purposes has been at the lowest level in these winter months, such a halt in river flows is very much manageable and would not harm production of crops.