India’s river dam projects on Pakistan and China borders

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Shweta Routh
Shweta Routh
Shweta Routh is a third-year student at KIIT University's School of Mass Communication. Her ambition is to become a good journalist and serve her country. She is a classical dancer who enjoys meeting new people and trying new things.

India plans to build ten hydropower projects totalling 6.8 gigawatts (GW) in Jammu, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. The construction of these ten hydropower projects allows India to fully use its water quota according to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan. 

The projects, which the state-run NHPC Ltd is undertaking at Rs 68,000 crore, are among India’s plans to exercise its rights to prevent excess water from flowing into Pakistan.

Given that regulation over river water flow acts as a force multiplier during times of aggression, these projects become strategically crucial against the backdrop of China’s controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor development.

To counter China’s scheme to divert water from the river that helps feed downstream into the Brahmaputra on its eastern borders, India has adopted a similar strategy, with plans to construct a dam at Yingkiong town in Arunachal Pradesh. Once built, it will be India’s second-largest dam.

According to NHPC (erstwhile National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) chairman and managing director Abhay Kumar Singh, the public sector undertaking is working on the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul project, 850 MW Ratle project, 624 MW Kiru project, and 540 MW Kwar project, which are all in Jammu and Kashmir.

Furthermore, India’s largest power generation company plans to construct power plants including 1,856 MW Sawalkot in J & K, 930 MW Kirthai-II in J & K, 500 MW Dugar in Himachal Pradesh, 240 MW Uri-I Stage-II in J & K, and 260 MW Dulhasti Stage-II in J & K.

However, Pakistan continues to object, but the dams will be built in accordance with the Indus Waters Treaty, said Abhay Kumar Singh. 

Uri, Kishanganga, and others are constructed under the Indus Waters Treaty.

Pakistan had previously expressed opposition to the construction of Kishanganga. Pakistan took the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2010, and the project was put on hold for three years. However, in 2013, the court stated that the Kishanganga was “a run-of-the-river plant within the significance of the Indus Waters Treaty,” allowing India to divert water from the Kishanganga for power generation.

Pakistan had also previously objected to the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects on the Chenab.

In April, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved Chenab Valley Power Projects Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between NHPC Ltd and Jammu & Kashmir State Power Development Corp. Ltd (JKSPDC), to build the 540MW Kwar project.

Why does China’s dam construction on the Brahmaputra River worry India?

 Relations between China and India have worsened since a clash along the Himalayan border resulted in the killing of 20 Indian soldiers in 2020. China’s plan to construct a massive dam over the Brahmaputra river raised tensions for India in the middle of this. 

China is currently building a super dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo, which eventually becomes the River Brahmaputra in India, larger than any other dam in the world. The dam will be constructed in the Medog region, where the Yarlung Tsangpo makes a U-turn and starts its descent into India. The dam will have three times the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam and is part of China’s 14th 5-year plan. For India, the issue is not the amount of electricity produced but the nature of the dam and the river on which it will be built. 

The river flows 1,600 kilometres in China from its headwaters near Mount Kailash in Tibet, then 900 kilometres in India, first as the Siang, then as the Brahmaputra, before joining the Teesta and entering Bangladesh, where it becomes the Yamuna and flows for another 300 kilometres until it meets the Ganges at Goalando.

China plans to build the world’s largest dam in south-eastern Tibet, where the river bends sharply and rushes through one of the world’s most dramatic gorges.

The Yarlung Tsangpo gorge (also called Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, the Tsangpo Canyon, the Brahmaputra Canyon or the Tsangpo Gorge), stretching over 500 kilometres, is carved out of granitic bedrock, which reaches 17,000 feet above sea level in some places, making it three times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

India and Bangladesh are concerned about how much water from the Brahmaputra and Yamuna rivers will be blocked by China’s massive dam in the Yarlung Tsangpo canyon. Some experts believe this is less of a concern because Yarlung’s longer stretch is situated in the rain-shadow zone situated to the north of the mighty Himalayan range. It receives significantly less rainfall than the river’s southern section.

But, during the non-monsoon season, India has no water in its catchment area, and the river receives water from snowmelt. So, if the Chinese build a dam and divert water during the non-monsoon seasons, the effects will be felt from Arunachal Pradesh to Bangladesh.

How is the dam’s construction a wise decision?

The proposed dam in Arunachal’s upper reaches will be able to store approximately 10 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water. The project’s construction activities will, directly and indirectly, employ about 2500 people and help in the overall socio-economic development of Jammu & Kashmir. Furthermore, during the project’s 40-year life cycle, the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir will benefit from free power worth approximately 4,548.59 crores and 4,941.46 crores in water usage charges from the Kwar Hydroelectric Project.

The Indus Waters Treaty 

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960, by India and Pakistan and was mediated by the World Bank. The treaty established and defined both countries’ rights and obligations regarding using the Indus River system’s waters.

The Indus Waters Treaty states that whoever constructs a project first has first privileges to the river waters. The treaty establishes a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries concerning using six rivers: the Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum.

The treaty grants India control of three eastern rivers: the Beas, the Ravi, and the Sutlej.


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