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Kishanganga project opening delayed by Kashmir tensions

The Kishanganga hydropower project being built by India is near completion, and Pakistan is worried, but the opening is delayed by rising tensions in Kashmir for the last few months
<p>The idyllic Gurez valley through which the Indus flows in J&#038;K [image by Kashif Pathan/Flickr]</p>

The idyllic Gurez valley through which the Indus flows in J&K [image by Kashif Pathan/Flickr]

At a time when India has indicated that it may rethink the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with the lower riparian Pakistan and later made it clear that it would make full use of the provisions under the treaty to use the western rivers of the Indus basin for power generation and irrigation, completion of Kishanganga project by India is causing consternation in Pakistan. The 330 megawatt (MW) project has witnessed protracted international arbitration and a string of protests from Pakistan.

See: Indus water dispute going to arbitrators again

The Kishanganga Hydro Electric Project (KHEP) is a run-of-the-river project located on a tributary of River Jhelum in the northern district of Bandipora in the Himalayan state of Jammu & Kashmir. KHEP is being executed by the public sector National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) at a cost of INR 57.8 billion (USD 869 million) by the Hindustan Construction Company and UK’s Halcrow Group.

The project has been designed to divert water from the Kishanganga river through a 24-kilometre-long tunnel for generating electricity and then send the water back to the Kishanganga. Pakistan is building the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project downstream which, Islamabad contends, will be affected by the KHEP.

Ready for Commissioning

Speaking to thethirdpole.net, S Kalgaonkar, executive director of NHPC, confirmed that the Kishanganga project is near completion. He said that the project was supposed to be inaugurated in November, but it would not be possible because of the tension along the Line of Control (LoC).

Another top official associated with the project, who preferred anonymity, said that 95% of the project work has been completed and the remaining 5% is pending due to the three-month long political unrest within Kashmir.

“Obviously, the situation within the valley hampered our work as well. The circumstances didn’t allow us to continue work. We were supposed to fill the reservoir in October, but it seems impossible because of the prevailing circumstances in the valley,” he said.

The LoC has been witnessing renewed skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani military at various places following the terrorist attack on September 18 at an army base in Uri near the LoC. Nineteen Indian army personnel and four militants were killed in the attack which, India alleged, was carried out by militants from Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Kashmir valley has been witnessing clashes between protesters and security personnel for the last three months.  More than 90 people have been killed and over 14,000 have been injured so far.

Kishanganga is located near the LoC in Gurez.  The Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) that represents this area from Jammu & Kashmir, Nazir Gurezi, said that the people there are currently living in extreme fear due to the exchange of shelling between India and Pakistan along the LoC. “More than 5,000 families have migrated from Gurez because of fear,” Gurezi said.

Inauguration of the Kishanganga project would have been round the corner if the security situation in Kashmir and LoC would not have worsened. NHPC officials said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office had been directly monitoring the Kishanganga project over the past many months and was keen to see it completed by October this year.

Heightened insecurity in Pakistan

It has already raised apprehensions and consternation in Pakistan. Quoting sources, a Pakistani newspaper on October 6 ran a news report which said that India has completed the Kishanganga project without resolving differences with Pakistan.

However, it has not been mentioned in the news report as to what was Pakistan was objecting to after a verdict by the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in December 2013 that India could divert a minimum amount of water for power generation.

Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences department of Kashmir University,  has been a regular observer of India-Pakistan disputes over water and has written and spoken extensively about the Indus Water Treaty.

According to Romshoo, there is no reason for Pakistan to still have any objection to India going ahead with the Kishanganga project. “It is not easy for me to say anything on Pakistan’s objections. I don’t think there is any room for further arbitration when the International Court of Arbitration has already given the verdict in 2013,” Romshoo said.

“Though it is very dangerous to speculate, but I think Pakistan’s contention is that India has violated the verdict of the court of arbitration,” Romshoo said.

He said that there has already been a lot of insecurity among Pakistani people over water-sharing with India. “The recent media reports that India is planning to construct a network of power plants over the western rivers of Indus (basin) which have been allocated to Pakistan with India having the right to build run-of-the-river power projects has caused more insecurity in Pakistan.”

No time for the displaced

Meanwhile Nazir Gurezi is concerned about the lack of rehabilitation of the families displaced due to the Kishanganga project. “The authorities are yet to identify the land for rehabilitating the families. I have taken it up with the administration, but have not received any satisfactory response so far,” Gurezi told thethirdpole.net. “Chief Minister [of J&K] Mehbooba Mufti has assured me that she will look into the matter, but so far nothing has happened.”