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Why Shahpurkandi Dam Project is a New Chapter in Indus

indus water treaty

Whenever there is a discussion about the ways of dealing with India’s hostile neighbor Pakistan, along with many other suggestions, such as building a global pressure, taking a military action etc., some experts have always suggested that India should leverage its power with the Indus water that flows to Pakistan. But to debate whether it would be right for India to consider pulling back from the Indus Water Treaty that was signed with Pakistan in 1960 seemed too premature since India was not even utilizing its share of water all these years. However, a cabinet decision on December 6, 2018, promised to change the current situation, as the decision to construct the Shahpurkandi Dam Project, Punjab on the Ravi River was taken. The project would help in minimising some of the water of the Ravi River which is going waste downstream to Pakistan at present.

Even if we choose to keep Indus Water Treaty and Pakistan out of this discussion, the project would necessarily bring huge benefits to the two states of Punjab and Jammu& Kashmir in terms of the irrigation prospects.

Project Outline
  • The project would be completed by June 2022.
  • The estimated cost of Shahpurkandi Dam project is Rs 1973.53 crore. In this, Central Assistance of Rs 485.38 crore (for the irrigation component) would be provided over the period of five years, that is, from 2018-19 to 2022-23.
Impact of the Project
  • On completion of the project, an irrigation potential of 5,000 ha in Punjab and 32,173 ha in J&K would be created.
  • The implementation of the scheme would generate 6.2 lakh man-days employment for the unskilled workers.
  • Another 6.2 lakh man-days employment for semi-skilled and 1.67 lakh man-days employment for skilled workers.
Delay Under the Previous Government

Realization of the Shahpurkandi Dam project speaks volume about the co-operative federalism that is at play under the Modi Government. The main road-block in the project was unwillingness of the Punjab Government to provide fund under the ‘power component’ of this project. There was also an interstate issue with J&K. To resolve all these issues, and to facilitate an agreement between Punjab and J&K, the Union Government conducted a series of meetings with both the states. Finally, the Punjab Government agreed to release its part of funds for the project on September 8, 2018.

Looking at the timeline of this negotiation, this should have happened long ago:

  • A Bilateral agreement was signed between the states of Punjab and J&K in January 1979. As per the agreement, construction of Ranjit Sagar Dam and Shahpurkandi Dam was to be taken up by the Punjab Government.
  • Ranjit Sagar Dam was commissioned in August 2000.
  • The ShahpurKandi Dam project was approved by the Planning Commission in November 2001.
  • Though, the central assistance was released in the 2009-11 timeframe. However, there was a lack of will-power and initiation to resolve the issues between the states.
  • Finally, it took the Modi Government to kick-start the project.

The immediate benefits of the project in terms of irrigation is obvious as explained above. Nevertheless, India building up its capability to maximize the utilisation of Indus River’s tributaries such as Ravi can also be seen as a strategic move, as in 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly said in a meeting with officials in the context of the tension with Pakistan that “blood and water cannot flow together at the same time”.