Noreen Haider: It was an amazing sight for me as I reached Kasur District on the Indo Pak border. After fifteen years the gorgeous River Sutlej had returned, full force, to run in its native course with around eighty thousands cusecs of water flowing in its bed. For most people in Kasur this Sutlej was no more than a memory and they had long given up on it. People had freely inhabited the pond area of the river, cultivating crops and building houses. They simply did not believe that the river could come alive with such force.
But alive it did come, on 16th August after India opened floodgates of barrage and dams built on the River Sutlej following widespread rains in catchment area and released the water into Pakistan downstream Ferozepur Barrage. It was reported in Pakistan as a calculated move by India to divert flood waters to Pakistan but to me it was more like a homecoming of a beloved river.
Sutlej is among the three eastern rivers that were divided between India and Pakistan according to the Indus water treaty. Under the Indus Water Treaty (1960), all the waters of the eastern tributaries of the Indus River originating in India, i.e. the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers taken together, were made available for the unrestricted use of India.
So according to the Indus Water treaty the water of Sutlej was mainly diverted in the irrigation canals in Indian Punjab and it became more like a folk lore in Pakistan.
But the article IV of the same treaty clearly stated that the excess water in the rivers would be diverted in the natural courses, “the use of the natural channels of the rivers for the discharge of flood or other excess waters shall be free and not subject to limitation by either party, or neither party shall have any claim against the other in respect of any damage caused by such use. Each party agrees to communicate to the other party, as far in advance as practicable, any information it may have in regard to such extraordinary discharges of water from reservoirs and flood flows as may affect the other party.”
It was but natural for India to discharge flood water in the natural channel of river, only there was perhaps never too much to spare. This year the unusual rainfalls and consequently the large volume of water in all major rivers flowing from Himalayas and Himachal Pradesh down to Indian Punjab forced the authorities to release excess water in Sutlej.
On sixteenth August the Punjab government in India cautioned against the possibility of floods in some districts following the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) releasing excess water from the reservoir of the Pong Dam in neighboring Himachal Pradesh due to heavy rains.
According to the BBMB in view of forecast of heavy rainfall and excessive high inflows in Beas, one hundred thousand cusecs of water was released from Pong Dam in Beas River. The Beas River is the major tributary of Sutlej and as such the phenomenal volume of flood water in Beas fell into Sutlej, swelling it further.
The irrigation department of India also announced on 16th August that because of continuous heavy rainfall in the catchment area of the Sutlej River in Himachal Pradesh, the water level at the 225-metre high Bhakra Dam markedly increased and touched the 1,658.93 feet mark on 16th August, against its capacity of 1,680 feet.
The flood waters were released in Sutlej consequently and it entered kasur district. It is true that due to the flood water in Sutlej cultivated fields were affected and some villages inundated but that was due to the fact that people had settled in the pond areas and started cultivation in the actual river bed. The dwellings around the river bed that were swept away were mostly traditional mud and straw huts that were used by the farmers and cattle herders in the area for transitory use. The houses in the villages were at a safer distance and built rather well on raised grounds and remained safe.
The Indian authorities informed Pakistan forty eight hours in advance before releasing water which was sufficient time for preparation. Inhabitants of the villages in and around Kasur were informed well in time and requested to evacuate the area, however they opted to stay in their homes as they did not foresee any imminent danger of inundation.
The flood water full of alluvial soil flowing in Sutlej has been a gift from heaven for the farmers of the area. It has been exceptionally beneficial for districts of Kasur, Okara, Pakpatton, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan in south Punjab as it not only has positive effect on the crops and livestock wealth but has also a significant impact on the environment of the area. The flood would improve the underground sweet water level and bring back the flora and fauna of some of the desert of South Punjab. The real challenge for Pakistan is to have better water management systems so that the precious water should be preserved for use in the water scarce area of South Punjab.
The added benefit of the gorgeous Sutlej has been that because of the availability of excess water for south Punjab, Irrigation Regulation Authority has reduced water releases downstream Tarbela dam from 1,25,000 cusecs to 1,00,000 cusecs and from 15,000 cusecs to 13,000 cusecs downstream the Mangla dam on river Jhelum. This has enabled the authorities to fill the two reservoirs to their maximum capacity before the monsoon season is over.
For me it was a marvel to see once again how nature has this amazing ability to restore, re-establish and reconnect to the oneness of being. The rivers cannot be divided; neither can they be possessed by anyone. The rivers are the miracle of life itself, the harbinger of true prosperity.
All rivers have a right to run in their natural courses as nature meant them to and no matter what the strategic relations may be between India and Pakistan one thing is certain that the rivers that run through them would always symbolize harmony and hope.
 Article IV Indus Water Treaty (1960)
Photo Credit: Matthew Herschmann, Source: http://www.pbase.com/asianodyssey/image/87790089
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.
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