By: Arun Joshi
Unending power woes in Jammu and Kashmir is not the same story which is told and retold in the rest of the country. It is a manifestation of policy failure and unlimited incompetence in comprehending the problems and laying a vision for future.
In simple words, the power crisis that the people in the Union Territory experienced in March-April was not unprecedented, its feel was. There hangs a trail of questions – why a water rich territory like J&K is suffering from such crisis.
Why it lacked a plan to tap the water resources in time to generate electricity, and why our water was allowed to go waste.
The political class that ruled J&K, the state with its special status under Article 370 and the most powerful legislature in the country in pre-August 5, 2019 era had one answer: “ injustice meted out to J&K because of the Indus Water Treaty.” The Treaty was damned for allowing the waters of J&K rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – to flow to Pakistan without being utilised properly within the political boundaries of the state.
There was a merit in the argument that, why all the three major rivers of J&K were subjected to the supervision and monitoring of Pakistan. A better draft could have been worked out. That’s the price J&K paid because of its inherent political instability.
The Treaty was signed in 1960, when J&K had a government that was not elected but selected and the then “Prime Minister” Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, who was handpicked to succeed Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after the later was deposed and arrested on August 9, 1953.
When the politicians who survive on crutches or patronages, they cannot script the history for the benefit of their posterity. This is the bane of the history, the price for which is being paid by the people of J&K.
Not that all other politicians were having some vision. They cursed the Treaty, but the IWT did not stop them from using the waters up to some level. There was no attempt to do so.
The mechanism that could have been put in place to tame the waters, build dams and generate electricity, irrigate fields, and meet drinking water requirements did not come about.
All such thoughts and suggestions fell victim to the politicking. Jammu and Kashmir is master in politicising all issues.
There indeed was political instability, and the Plebiscite Front which sought to become the voice of the people of Kashmir, and anti-Kashmiri politics narrative in Jammu and master-mishandling of the situation by Delhi, created a mess, in which neither development nor management of the water resources figured.
Another irony was that all the criticism against IWT was weaved around anti-Delhi narrative, and not even a word was uttered against Pakistan. The records of the legislature, if those are intact, bear testimony to it.
At the end of the day, a treaty is a treaty. It has to be honoured. The basic problem is that the political class used this document for the political narrative, without going through the exact content and its interpretation.
There is unlimited scope for J&K to tame its waters within the prescribed limits to light our homes, run our industries, irrigate our fields and make drinking water available to each and every household in the territories of the erstwhile state – now two UTs of Ladakh and J&K.
The state has been split but the IWT retains its relevance for the rives of both the UTs . There are certain things which cannot change.
Delhi of yesteryear is not blameless. It never encouraged the state to have its own power projects. The fate of Baglihar power project is before all of us. It was interested in project by the NHPC, no harm in that. But the terms were negotiated in a partisan manner.
Not only that, if one were to ask, how many years were consumed in construction and commissioning of Salal and Dul Hasti power projects, there are no satisfactory answers.
In April 1983, then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, while speaking at the foundation laying ceremony of rail link between Udhampur-Jammu and that of Dul Hasti had cautioned that the central projects are never completed in time.
Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had retorted that all these projects will be completed in the stipulated time frame – and both these projects took decades for completion. And 1980s was a trouble-free period. Delays not only increase the physical cost of the structures but also loss of huge natural resources.
The water that flowed during those decades cannot be brought back. The climate change has taken its toll. The glaciers have receded and so is the volume of the water in the rivers.
It is not something that can be claimed by any efforts of today. It is a story of yesterday and the waters that flowed out of our rivers are gone forever.
Footnote: A power minister was willing to sign the MoU with the state government for power projects but wanted 3 per cent commission. That would have translated into hundreds of crores. That’s how the Central ministers were dealing with J&K and its need for electricity.
J&K is no longer a special status state. Now it has no control over its resources. But the people here should have the first right over the power generated from the territory’s rivers – only then other dreams can be realised. IWT doesn’t bar this.