We have made reservoir dams, irrigated J&K, provided more electricity, but what about using it as a credible threat against Pakistan?
It is of course possible to deny them water in the late summer months and winters, and ensure we negotiate hard on this to stop their support for cross border terrorism, but we can’t just stop the entire water using couple of large storage reservoirs.
To use water as a credible deterrence, we need to divert them.
It is technically extremely difficult to connect Indus with Jhelum or any other IWT river due to the massive mountain ranges in between, but a Jhelum-Chenab interlinking canal can be a possibility in the future
Chenab can be linked to Beas since it is all plains from south of Chenab, and the canals of Punjab can link Ravi, Beas (considering Ravi and Beas pass near Amritsar, both are considered as a point) and Sutlej to Yamuna via the Sutlej-Yamuna canal
This will help us in water management throughout our northern fertile plains and give control over the major western rivers to benefit India both strategically and economically
In short term, we need to expedite the construction of all the current projects on the western rivers.
In mid-term, we need to build huge storage reservoirs dams to increase the efficiency of the downstream projects and provide both flood control and irrigation for J&K
In the long term, we can link all of these rivers (except Indus) to give us immense control over our water resources
Let me be very clear on one thing, we will never use flooding (releasing excess water suddenly) as a weapon since we are not a rouge state like North Korea. The only thing we will bargain on is how much water we should release to Pakistan depending on how strictly Pakistan has acted on shutting down its proxy war using non state actors.
The China Angle
There are concerns being raised in the media about what China will do if we review the Indus water treaty.
There are two parts to that concern
Part A: If India does nothing on IWT, will China also leave Brahmaputra alone?
China has always pursued the doctrine of absolute territorial integrity over river waters, irrespective of what happens downstream. Even before India started talking about reviewing IWT, China already has developed plans for 100 dams on Tibet’s major rivers. They have already constructed multiple dams on the Brahmaputra River such as the $1.5 Billion Zangmu HEP and plans are underfoot to divert the waters of Brahmaputra towards the arid north.
Despite India’s repeated accusations and meetings, China keeps denying and carries on regardless of our concerns.
India needs to accept the reality that with or without tweaking the Indus Water Treaty, we need to construct mega dams for emergency storage and flood control on Brahmaputra to prepare for the inevitable diversion of water by China.
We need to construct these mega reservoirs on a war footing, to mitigate any misadventures by China and contain the damage in case of possible flooding due to mismanagement of flood water by China.
It is clear that even if India did nothing on the Indus Water Treaty, China will not stop its activities to meet its growing water demand, and we need to prepare for it.
Part B:If India reduces water supply to Pakistan, can China do the same to India on Indus and Sutlej?
China has sparse population in the area where Indus(Sênggê) 430 Km long, and Sutlej (Langqen) 309 Km long flow before entering India. So, most of the projects constructed would be for hydro-power rather than water storage for irrigation.Even if China would build mega projects, it would not have a significant impact on our rivers
As seen in the graph below, the average discharge of a river can be used to gauge the importance of the river.It is to be noted that Chenab’s discharge is 800 m³/s, and that is the reason most of our HEPs are situated on that river.
While Indus has a discharge of 6600 m³/s when it enters Arabian Sea, it is mostly because of the multiple tributaries which feed into it such as Chenab River. Before Zanskar River merges into Indus near Leh town, the discharge coming from China is quite low at 254 m³/s.
Similarly, Sutlej before Spiti and Baspa rivers merge into it, it has an estimated 250 m³/s of discharge. Much of the water fed into Indus and Sutlej also comes from our glaciers and rain.
To summarize, we need to proactively engage with China diplomatically to resolve the Brahmaputra issue, but simultaneously make mega reservoir dams on a war footing to be prepared for any eventuality. On the Indus side, we are not majorly affected by what China builds on their part of Indus and Sutlej, but we need to construct reservoir dams for our own needs.
There is an urgent need to review or abrogate the Indus water treaty and remove the imbalances which occurred due to Nehru’s generosity. India needs to work on the points discussed above to develop a credible and actionable deterrence against Pakistan’s incessant use of non-state actors to inflict a thousand cuts on India.
(This is the second article in the two-part series on Indus Water Treaty. Click here to read the first part)