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Why India’s Ujh dam & 2nd Sutlej-Beas link projects, key to Indus waters, have hit roadblock

Projects key to India’s plan to fully utilise its share of Indus waters. While Ujh project in J&K is 'not financially viable', Sutlej-Beas link project is facing land acquisition issues.

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New Delhi: India’s plans to build a multipurpose project on the Ujh river in Jammu & Kashmir for irrigation and hydro power and the second Sutlej-Beas link project in Punjab, so as to better utilise Indus river waters currently flowing to Pakistan, have hit a roadblock.

While the finance ministry’s Public Investment Board (PIB) has not cleared the strategic Ujh project on the ground that it is not financially viable, the Sutlej-Beas link project is facing land acquisition issues in Punjab as well as delay in finalisation of the location of its barrage, ThePrint has learnt.

The dam at Ujh (a tributary of Ravi), the second Sutlej-Beas link project, along with a third ongoing dam project in Shahpur Kandi in Punjab, are all on the eastern rivers of the Indus basin and are key to India’s aim of utilising the water it is guaranteed under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan.

Of the three, work is at an advanced stage on the Rs 2,793 crore Shahpur Kandi dam project. Expected to be complete by the end of this year, the dam will help check the unutilised water that goes to Pakistan through Madhopur headworks downstream.

The Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank in 1960, outlines how India and Pakistan will utilise the six rivers of the shared Indus river system. While the western rivers of the system — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — fall in Pakistan’s share, the three eastern ones — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — are to be used by India.

Under the treaty, India gets unrestricted use of over approximately 33 million acre-feet (MAF) water from the three eastern rivers, while Pakistan gets over 135 MAF from the three western ones. Currently, India utilises around 94-95 per cent of its share of water in the eastern rivers through a network of dams, including the Bhakra on Sutlej, Ranjit Sagar on Ravi, and Pong and Pandoh on Beas.

The three projects Shahpur Kandi, Ujh and the second Sutlej-Beas link will help India utilise the remaining 5 per cent of water that currently flows into Pakistan.

India has several ongoing as well as proposed projects on the three western rivers as well. Currently, it is locked in a dispute with Pakistan over two of its hydroelectric projects on the western rivers Kishanganga and Ratle.

The World Bank has appointed a neutral expert on the request of India and set up a Court of Arbitration on the request of Pakistan to resolve the matter.

Also Read: India’s Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan ignored China all along. Time to fix it now

‘Financially unviable’ 

A senior government official told ThePrint that it was in October 2022 that the PIB rejected the Ministry of Jal Shakti’s Rs 6,000-crore proposal to build the Ujh multipurpose project that comprises a dam and hydroelectric plant, holding it financially unviable.

The PIB appraises public funded projects worth more than Rs 500 crore, before the ministry piloting the project moves the cabinet to get it approved.

“The PIB has maintained that if the project is of strategic importance, the Ministry of Jal Shakti can take it directly to the cabinet for approval,” the official said, adding: “Because of its strategic importance, the project is still under consideration.”

The second Sutlej-Beas link project, on the other hand, is getting delayed because of land acquisition issues in Punjab as well as the finalisation of the exact location of the barrage.

“We are in talks with all the stakeholders to finalise the exact location of the barrage,” a second government official said.

The second Sutlej-Beas link project envisages building a barrage to distribute unutilised Ujh water by linking the Ravi and Beas rivers. The first link was constructed in 1957 to utilise the water from Ravi and Beas through a barrage on the Madhopur river. The project will help increase utilisation of India’s share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also Read: India cannot satisfy Pakistan enough without reworking the Indus Water Treaty

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