NEW DELHI: India is stepping up efforts to maximise its use of the western rivers of the Indus basin, the BBC reported on Thursday quoting senior officials.
The move would involve building huge storage facilities and canals, it said. The three rivers flow through India-held Kashmir but most of the water is allotted to Pakistan under an international treaty. The officials, however, said the move would not violate the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said a government task force is finalising details of the water project, which he has made a priority.
Experts say New Delhi is using water issue to put pressure on Pakistan in dispute over Kashmir
“The ball has started rolling and we will see some results soon, most of them will be about building new storages in the basin,” one top official told BBC on condition of anonymity.
Another senior official said: “We are quite familiar with the terrain as we have already built a number of structures there.” But he added: “We are talking about few years here.”
The report quoted unnamed experts as saying Delhi was using the water issue to put pressure on Pakistan in the dispute over Kashmir. There is also speculation that state polls in Indian Punjab could be a factor for the stepped up rhetoric.
India wants to “maximise” its use of water from the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers. Millions of people in the two countries depend on water in the rivers.
“An official with India’s water resources ministry insisted that this action would be ‘well within’ the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty,” the BBC said.
India reportedly began reviewing the treaty after a militant attack in India-held Kashmir in September in which 19 soldiers were killed.
New Delhi accused Islamabad of being behind the attack and relations deteriorated, leading to a rise in cross-border tensions.
The IWT was signed in 1960 and allocated the three eastern rivers — the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — of the Indus basin to India, while 80 per cent of the three western ones — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — was allotted to Pakistan.
India says it has not fully utilised the 20 per cent of water given to it in the three western rivers. Pakistan disputes this.
Officials in Delhi said the IWT allowed India to irrigate 1.4 million acres of land using water from those rivers. But they say only 800,000 acres are irrigated at present.
They added that the building of hydropower projects would also be accelerated.
India currently generates around 3,000MW of hydroelectricity from the western rivers, but the Indus basin is said to have a potential of nearly 19,000MW.
Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2016