Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The Curse of Jhelum: Pak could only blame its terrorists

The earliest recorded historical accounts of human intervention for regulation of Jhelum waters are to be found from the reign of Awantivarman, the founder of Utpala dynasty, who ruled from 855 AD onwards. It is said that constant wars, floods and other natural calamities had devastated the Kashmir valley by the time he ascended the throne and a major challenge he faced was the flooding of vast tracts of land. In tackling this challenge, he was helped by Suyya, considered a great engineer of his times, who focussed on the area around present day Sopore (from Suyyapur, according to most accounts).

What Awantivarman and Suyya did could not have been something very novel as the Jhelum river had been around for much longer. It is safe to assume that they perhaps worked on ideas which must have come to them from an earlier era. In fact, at least 150 to 175 years before Awantivarman, Kashmir was ruled by Lalitaditya Muktapida, who constructed the Martand temple, destroyed by Sikander Butshikan. There are no accounts of floods in Jhelum, or any of other mountain streams in that era which caused any damage to public property.

The total length of the Jhelum is believed to be about 450 miles (725 km), right from octagonal Verinag spring located in extreme eastern part of Kashmir valley, considered its origin to its place of merger in Chenab. The Jhelum River is believed to be the Hydaspes mentioned by Arrian (the historian for Alexander the Great) and the Bidaspes mentioned by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy. The fate of Kashmir is inexorably intertwined with that of Jhelum, or Vitasta, a more ancient name rooted in Sanskrit traditions of the Valley.

The most recent memory of Jhelum in flood dates back to barely eight years ago, from September 2014, when torrential rains hit Kashmir. By September 7 that year, it has rained so much, and for days on end, that Srinagar city and many other parts of the Kashmir valley got inundated. Vehicular traffic got disrupted and it was a nightmare that lasted for days on end. The civil society blamed the government of the day with negligence, neglecting to get dredging of Jhelum and Wullar lake done. In time and ignoring encroachments at critical points which became choke points during high floods.

The foundations of that 2014 devastation were firmly laid down a couple of years before that, on August 27, 2012, when Hizbul Majahideen (HM) terrorists carried out an attack on dredging works at Adipora (Bandipora district). The attack disrupted the dredging works being carried out in Wullar lake and over 300 workers ran away. The heavy machinery, including JCBs and tipper trucks, were abandoned, all work thus coming to a standstill. No newspaper, or TV channels operating in Kashmir, thought it worthwhile to analyse and report the issue in detail.

Seven years later, in 2019, Iftikhar A Drabu, a civil engineer who has worked in hydro sector for a long time, wrote: It is worth mentioning here that till date, no storage of any type has been constructed by India on these (meaningWestern) rivers. Just to highlight here, if the storage volume permitted by the Treaty (means Indus Waters Treaty, 1960) for Jhelum basin had been available, it could have moderated the level of flooding Kashmir experienced in September 2014. He was writing for Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and many of his articles are still there on the foundation’s website.

The terror proxies of Pakistan, HM terrorists in this case, had carried out the August 2012 attack at Adipora works, exactly a decade ago, because these were allegedly in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). Doesn’t the IWT allow storage of 3.6 MAF of water on Western Rivers, of which Jhelum is one, the other two being the Chenab and the Indus? It sure does and the flood mitigation measures can be taken on Jhelum river and the Adipora works were in consonance with them.

It may look odd but the 2012 Adipora attack greatly harmed Pakistan as also Kashmir, and Kashmiris, a misguided section of whom swears allegiance to our western neighbour. In fact, sand and gravel extracted due to dredging in the Jhelum would have stayed on the Indian side, if the works were not disrupted. Disruption by HM terrorists meant that these were all carried as unnecessary sediments into Mangla dam of Pakistan downstream of Wullar.

Incidentally, Mangla Dam, completed in 1967, is one of the main structures in the Indus basin. It’s the sixth largest dam in the world. It’s situated on the Jhelum River in the Mirpur district of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). When it was completed, the dam structure rose 453 feet (138 metres) above ground level, was about 10,300 feet (3,140 metres) wide at its crest, and had a volume of 85.5 million cubic yards (65.4 million cubic metres). Although its impounded reservoir originally had a gross capacity of about 5.9 million acre-feet (about 7.3 billion cubic metres), the amount of water impounded gradually diminished because of silting. A five-year project, completed in 2009, raised the height of the dam by 30 feet (9 metres), raising its storage capacity to some 7.4 million acre-feet (9.13 billion cubic metres).

Before 1967, over 280 villages and the towns of Mirpur and Dadyal were submerged and over 110,000 people were displaced from the area as a result of the Mangla dam being built. Its water holding capacity had reduced significantly by 2004 and a five-year project, completed in 2009, was an attempt to enhance its capacity again. The project raised the dam height by 30 feet to 482 feet, thus raising the water conservation level. Between 2004 and 2009, over 40,000 people living in the vicinity of the dam were displaced to create additional storage of water.

Most of the enhanced capacity of Mangla dam, however, has vanished over the last decade or so. Mainly due to the 2014 Kashmir valley floods which carried all the sediments to the dam filling it with muck. In Pakistan, there exists no worthwhile mechanism to deal with sediments in the Mangla dam. So, the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists working as terror proxies in August 2012 a decade ago actually shot their masters in the foot. 

Such are matters of haste to repent at leisure. 

(Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000. He edits epaper.earthnews.in, a newspaper from Jammu presently.)

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