New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on a day-long visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, during which he will inaugurate the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project (KHEP) and the Zojila Pass tunnel.
The visit assumes geopolitical significance since the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project has for long been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. The Rs 5,750-crore project on Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum, was commissioned in various stages over the last couple of months.
The project includes a dam on the tributary, which is barely metres away from the Line of Control (LoC). According to National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), the project is set to generate 1,713 million units per annum. Jammu and Kashmir would be provided with 12 percent of the power generated by the project.
The dam will divert the Jhelum water to an underground power house. More than it being a power house and a way of transferring water from the Gurez Valley to Kashmir, the dam on Kishanganga, known as Neelum in Pakistan, is a mark of strategic significance and a show of strength.
The work on the project started during the previous government’s regime in 2007, but it was halted after Pakistan moved the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague three years later. Pakistan, in its plea at The Hague, had said that India violated the Indus Water Treaty, which details the use of water when it comes to shared rivers.
In 2013, however, in a massive victory for India, the court allowed it to go ahead with the construction of the project on Kishanganga, with a caveat that it would have to release 9 cubic metres of water across the border. That, however, was not the end.
In 2016, Pakistan sought the World Bank’s help and asked the organisation to appoint an arbitration court into the make and design of the Kishanganga dam and also to look into another project on the Chenab. The talks between the two countries, via the World Bank, have still seen no fruitful result, except the fact that India went ahead with KHEP, thus asserting its rights over the waters as well as, in ways more than one, the Indus Water Treaty.
Pakistan, too, has left no stone unturned in asserting its rights, one of which is first access to water. While it continues to object the project till date, last month, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi inaugurated the first unit of the Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Project (NJHEP) on the same river in PoK.
All Weather Access To Kargil Via Zojila Pass
Situated at an altitude of 11,578 feet on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway, the Zojila Pass tunnel’s main aim is to provide all-weather connectivity to Leh, a strategically important region which remains closed for at least six months due to heavy snowfall and other weather conditions. The project, set to cost about Rs 6,800 crore, is expected to be a 14.15-km-long two lane bi-directional tunnel and is expected to be completed in seven years.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had reaffirmed the importance of the tunnel as he, earlier this month, said that the Zojila pass is the most important strategic for the entire Kargil region, which has seen intrusion and war in the past. It was this Zojila Pass that was captured by Pakistan in 1947 but Indians recaptured it in 1948. The actual planning of the tunnel actually started after the Kargil War in 1999.
It is being touted as Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. The tunnel will also help India keep an eye on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which India has for long criticised.