India plans dam on River ChenabFebruary 22, 2010
By Khaleeq Kiani
ISLAMABAD: With Pakistan still undecided when to formally seek intervention of the International Court of Arbitration against controversial construction of Kishanganga hydropower project by India in violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, New Delhi has started preparations to build another big dam on River Chenab.
Documents available with Dawn suggest that the government of Indian-occupied Kashmir has invited bids for a ‘topographical survey of Bursar Dam (on Chenab) for acquisition of land and property’. New Delhi plans to begin construction by the end of the year.
Bursar Dam is considered as the biggest project among a host of others being built by India on two major rivers – Jhelum and Chenab – flowing through the state of Jammu & Kashmir into Pakistan and assigned to Islamabad under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. The proposed dam would not only violate the treaty, international environmental conventions and cause water scarcity in Pakistan but would also contribute towards melting of Himalayan glaciers.
Pakistan’s Permanent Indus Commissioner Syed Jamaat Ali Shah had repeatedly asked his Indian counterpart to provide details of the proposed water storage and hydropower projects, including Bursar dam. However, India has taken the stand that it was aware of its legal obligations and it would let Pakistan know about the project details and relevant data six months before construction activities as required under the bilateral treaty, he said, adding the Pakistan could do nothing more when such projects were in the planning and investigation stage.
Responding to a question about Kishanganga hydropower project, he said he had already requested the government to move quickly for constitution of an International Court of Arbitration to stop construction of the controversial project. Pakistan, he said, had already nominated two members for the court of arbitration and had asked to do the same. He said the procedure laid down in the waters treaty required the two nations to nominate two adjudicators each of their choice and then jointly nominate three members to complete the composition of a seven-member court of arbitration.
He said the procedure also required that in case of a disagreement over three adjudicators, the complainant nation should ask the World Bank to nominate these three members and start formal proceedings. Pakistan, he said, had even prepared the list of three joint adjudicators since India had not yet fulfilled its obligations to nominate its two members and three joint members of the court. “We have completed the entire process, it was only a matter of formal launching and only the government could do that,” he said, adding that perhaps Islamabad intended to wait for the upcoming secretary level talks before triggering the legal process.
He, however, believed that these issues were of technical nature and should be processed accordingly as provided under the treaty.
Informed sources said that India had not only started building three other dams namely Sawalkot, Pakal-Dul and Kirthai on Chenab River, it has also completed the detail project report of Bursar Dam site. The proposed dam would have 829 feet height, storage capacity of more than two million acres feet and power generation capacity of 1200MW. The height of Baglihar, Tarbela and Mangla Dam is 474, 485 and 453 feet, respectively.
Bursar Dam would be constructed near Hanzal Village (near Kishtwar) in Doda District of Jammu & Kashmir on the 133-kilometre-long Marusudar River, the main right bank tributary of the Chenab river. Its construction would be a serious violation of the treaty as its storage was much behind the permissible limits. More than 4900 acres of thick forest would be submerged and the whole population of Hanzal village would be displaced.
Arshad H. Abbasi, visiting research fellow of the SDPI, said the project area fell in Seismic Zone V and hence most vulnerable to earthquake. Two active geological faults lines — Himalayan thrust and the Kishtwar fault — were passing through the project area, he said, adding that the worst impact of dam would be on glaciers of Marusudar river basin. He said that deforestation, coupled with high altitude military activities, had already created 48 glacial lakes in the Marusudar river basin covering an area of 225.35 sq km and massive construction activities in basin would further aggravate the melting of glaciers.
He said the project was located in Kishtwar High Altitude National Park which was an environmentally-protected area. Spreading over an area of 400 kilometres, the park contained 15 mammal species including the musk deer and Himalayan black and brown bear and some rare birds for which an environmental impact assessment study was necessary.