- Population growth and climate crisis are the two major factors haunting the future of energy demand
- Since China is an upper riparian to India in the Indus Basin, India needs to be wary of its neighbor’s actions
- Pressures on India and Pakistan have increased as rivers run dry and water shortages grow more acute.
- India and Pakistan can consider the perks of energy transactions and compensations for ecosystem services.
- To create a viable framework for managing the hydropower development in the Indus Basin, Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework can be utilized
Among the riparian countries of the Indus basin, India and Pakistan have put rigorous efforts to develop hydropower, particularly on the western rivers of the Indus Basin namely Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab. China for its part has partnered with Pakistan in developing various projects in Pakistan as a part of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India and Pakistan are facing energy crisis which is deemed to get worse with time. Population growth and climate crisis are the two major factors haunting the future of energy demand. In 2016, India set an ambitious goal of reaching 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, but there has been a target shortage of about 51 GW. Similarly, Pakistan is currently amid an energy crisis. Some 51 million Pakistanis lack access to electricity, while a further 90 million suffer from unreliable power supply and load-shedding daily, which is having a serious impact on the economy.
Given this dire situation and increasing stress on the limited conventional sources of energy, both the countries have shifted their focus to hydropower. With the support and backing of international organizations for hydropower, India and Pakistan have gotten into a mission mode to develop the hydropower in their territory.
In India the hydropower potential of the Indus River System has been assessed as 33,832 MW out of which only 14439.3 MW (43.72%) in under operation (as per CEA, 2020). In Pakistan, according to Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), there is 60,000 MW of hydropower potential mostly in Indus River in the provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Jhelum River in the provinces of Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Out of this, they have developed 7,320 MW.
Indus basin has large multipurpose projects like Bhakra Project; Pong Dam (360 MW); and Ranjit Sagar (600 MW) project and a few large size Run of the River (ROR) schemes like Dehar (990 MW); Nathpa Jhakri (1500 MW); Salal (690 MW); Dulhasti (390 MW); Baglihar (450 MW) in India. Some of the major projects in Pakistan includes Tarbela (3702 MW), Mangla (1120 MW), Ghazi-Barotha Hydropower Project (1450 MW), Golen Gol (106 MW), Neelum-Jhelum (969 MW), Dasu (4,320 MW) Ranolia (17 MW), Daral Khwar (37 MW) and Machai (2.6 MW), Karot (720 MW), Suki (870 MW) and Kohala (1,124 MW).
The development of the Basin has been far from straight forward. Being a transboundary river system governed roughly by the Indus water treaty of 1960, both the governments have had to follow a game of checks and balances. According to the treaty, India is allowed exclusive use of the eastern rivers namely Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas, whereas on the western rivers, India is not allowed to have live storage structures and can develop only run of the river hydropower projects. Also, India is supposed to share the plans of its projects on western rivers with Pakistan in advance to get their approval. This mechanism was put in place to check the dominant riparian position of India. However, this has not only lead to stalling of various important projects for India, but also lead to socio-economic distress in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
If there is any discrepancy in following the treaty, the countries are guided by the dispute resolution mechanism specified in the treaty. In accordance with the treaty, both India and Pakistan have established a permanent post of Commissioner for Indus Waters. The two Commissioners constitute the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC). According to Article IX, any breach of the Treaty shall first be examined by the Commission. If the Commission does not reach an agreement, then the case shall be dealt by a Neutral Expert or by a Court of Arbitration. The Treaty has survived two major wars between India and Pakistan (1965 and 1971) and an undeclared war in 1999. The IWT has managed to survive several military stand-offs (1987, 2001-02, 2008, 2016 and 2019) and several other episodes of political friction between the South Asian nuclear rivals.
Various Indian projects have been contested by Pakistan such as the Ratle hydroelectric project and Baglihar HE projects on Chenab River and Kishanganga HE projects on Jhelum River. The verdict in both the cases did not dismiss the projects but suggested a few changes to the project designs. Even after getting the verdict, Pakistan has repeatedly tried to impede the projects.
In Pakistan, the government relies heavily on foreign investment from private investors, foreign governments, and multilateral development banks. This has had serious implication on its sovereignty. Pressures on both countries have increased as rivers run dry and water shortages grow more acute.
Both the countries can consider the perks of energy transactions and compensations for ecosystem services. Without the competition to build more dams, both the countries could collaborate to build a certain number of projects without disturbing any environmental thresholds. This could help with cost sharing and for meeting their individual energy demands.
Catherine is performing her research on Indus Water River system at Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune.