Friday, 30 May 2008

Mangla Dam – get out

Mangla Dam – get out
Shabir Choudhry

Once again Mangla Dam has become a hot issue. Debate is going on about pros and cons of raising the Dam height by 30 feet. The project will cost 59 billion and will complete in June 2007. New height will enable the Dam to produce another 250 MW electricity. Also it would increase the storage capacity to 2.9 acre-feet.

Pakistani officials, who are extremely happy about the Mangla Dam project, claim that ‘it would enormously benefit all four provinces’. It would generate more electricity for Pakistani industrialists and provide more water to Pakistani Jagidaars.

It should be noted that total electricity consumption of Azad Kashmir is 150 MW, whereas the Dam with the present capacity can produce 1000 MW. What it means is that the Dam is currently producing far beyond the requirements of the Azad Kashmir, and we are ‘exporting’ high quality electricity to Pakistan and get nothing in return. Apart from that we also provide very valuable water supply to irrigate Pakistani land.

It should also be noted that the electricity produced at Mangla is of very high quality and is used for industrial purposes in Pakistan, and electricity provided to Azad Kashmir comes from Warsak Dam, which is of low quality. This low quality electric supply is often disrupted and creates enormous problems for the people of Azad Kashmir, especially in summer. Even though Mirpur is surrounded by a huge lake of water, but people suffer immensely due to shortage of drinking water especially in Summer heat.

The new project will provide the above benefits to the industrialist and Jagirdaars of Pakistan, but in return uproot, according to official figures 44,000 people of Azad Kashmir, whereas Anti Mangla Dam Campaign put the figure at more than 100,000.

When the Dam was originally built in 1960s it uprooted many more people, and most fertile land of Azad Kashmir went under water. Many displaced people still have not got possession of the land allotted to them in various parts of Pakistan. Many, after encountering enormous problems and opposition from the local people of Pakistan, decided to come back to Mirpur.

It is unfortunate that some of these people, who became victim of ‘local thugs’ in Pakistan, and some even lost dignity and honour of their women, came back to live in Mirpur, are to be uprooted again for the benefit of Pakistani landlords and industrialists.

It must be noted that these poor people lost their fertile lands and graves of their parents for the well - being of Pakistan, but after bad treatment from the local people of Pakistan were forced to move back into their homeland. They had to start all over again to build their nests, and they used their hard earned money to complete their homes once again only to be told to ‘get out’ before you drown.

Compensation and royalty

Much is said about the compensation to be paid to these unfortunate people. Some argue that people of Mirpur got ‘package’ and compensation for their homes and land in 1960s. This is not true, only some people ‘benefited’ from the package as according to some political activists, 90 percent of the promises were not honoured, and majority of the people got only bare minimum for their homes and land. In any case, in my view, no compensation is good enough for losing your home and graves of your beloved parents.

The Azad Kashmir Government and Pakistani governments have proudly claimed that they have negotiated a ‘generous’ package for those who would be uprooted by the new project. WAPDA has announced the compensation figure of 700 Million.

This might look sufficient to some, but what they don’t know is that Azad Kashmir government owes 500 Million to WAPDA, and if that figure were deducted, it would leave only 200 Million for compensation. Out of this small amount a reasonable amount could go to pockets of different officials and their agents, which would make the compensation a peanut.

It must be noted that a royalty was promised for the Mangla Dam at the time of original construction in 19690s, but not a single penny is paid to Azad Kashmir. But a generous royalty is paid for dams in other parts of Pakistan, and only Azad Kashmir is denied royalty.

I once asked a senior Pakistani official reason for this unfair treatment. He said that royalty is only paid to provinces of Pakistan and since Azad Kashmir is not a province of Pakistan therefore no royalty is paid.

Like last time once again it is claimed that a royalty would be paid to Azad Kashmir. Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir has proudly claimed that he has negotiated a royalty for the Mangla Dam. Again this is not true, what has happened is that President Musharraf has instructed IRSA {Indus River System Authority} to ‘work out a formula for extending royalty to AJK’.

What it means is that some time in future IRSA will, if they feel appropriate and if they have the required legal support, work out a strategy to give royalty to AJK. But in reality it will not happen, as it would require legal and constitutional changes because Azad Kashmir where the Dam is situated is not a constitutional part of Pakistan. And in any case by that time the proposed upraising of the Dam would be complete, and at that time who would care what people of Azad Kashmir or even Azad Kashmir government says.

Various Azad Kashmir governments have claimed royalty for the Dam and have been told off by the officials in Islamabad. They have also demanded rent and in some cases compensation for the property of Jammu and Kashmir State situated in Pakistan. No one in Pakistan has paid any attention to these demands, and in one such case where the government concerned was making too loud noises; the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir was arrested and taken to a rest house near Rawalpindi. The new Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir did not dare to repeat the same mistake.

Respective Pakistani governments could happily sponge off all the benefits from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan without any legal or constitutional arrangements, but when it comes to pay back some of the dues, they hide themselves behind legal hurdles.

Who cares for Mirpuries

We understand water and energy requirements of Pakistan, but what we don’t understand is that why people of Pakistan are not prepared to let dams constructed on the Pakistani territory. Planning for Mangla Dam and Kala Bagh Dam were made around same time, one dam has lived its natural life and paid back the money spent on it within ten years of its completion; the planning for the other dam is still on the shelves gathering dust.

Azad people of Pakistan did not allow the Pakistani authorities to even lay down a foundation brick for the construction of Kala Bagh Dam; they even threatened to blow the dam if it was built there. But Mangla Dam was built even though Azad Kashmir had no energy requirements and no water needs; people of Mirpur had no desire to be evicted from their homelands, but they were forced out by the authorities and para - military forces.

At a time when people of Azad Kashmir and especially people of Mirpur needed a government which could not only protect national interest of Kashmiris, but also rights of people of Mirpur, we find President and Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir at loggers head. They are engaged in a contest of power struggle.

During crucial negotiations on Mangla Dam, The Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir was more interested in behaving like a ‘good boy’ in order to win ‘favour’ of General Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment that he could get ‘victory’ in his fight against another army General who happens to be the President of Azad Kashmir.

It is interesting that despite legal restrictions, this General was ‘appointed’ and ‘elected’ as the President of Azad Kashmir. Sardar Sikander Ayat should know that one General would always support the other General, especially when there is a conflict between two parties and the other party is a civilian.

As expected, despite protests from people of Mirpur and people of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani authorities have gone ahead with their plans. Even after announcing the construction of Kala Bagh Dam in the national interest of Pakistan, President of Pakistan General Musharraf could not lay down foundation brick there, but he successfully laid down foundation brick for the new project at Mangla.

During President General Musharraf’s visit to Mirpur there were protests and para – military forces had to deal with the situation in which tear gas and ‘lathi charge’ was used generously, and many were arrested. The arrested people are still behind bars without any charges. Protesters were telling those who were there to start the new project to ‘get out’ of our homeland. They knew plans have been given a final shape to get them out of their homes and to drown their city once again.

Congratulations to all those who worked hard to conquer Mirpur for the second time. The city will go under water for the second time. Those who say that only a part of the city and parts of the surrounding towns will go under water are wrong. The fact is that plans for a ‘New Mirpur’ are already made, this only means that the present Mirpur which was New Mirpur at one time, has to go under water that another Mirpur could be built.

The protesters were shouting ‘get out’, the planners of the new project at Mangla Dam wanted the Mirpuries to get out of their homes without any fuss because it is in the national interest of Pakistan, and moreover in the interest of Jagirdaars and industrialists of Punjab. What remains to be seen is that who will get out, the authorities have ‘successfully’ laid down foundations for the new project, but they have also laid down foundations for a movement which could have a far reaching consequences for Pakistan and the people of Azad Kashmir.

Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir. Email:

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