“India Dumps Millions of Tons of Rock and Loose Soil at Jhelum”
ISLAMABAD: An environmental expert calls on Prime Minister Imran Khan to take note of the cross-border environmental risks of the strategic Zojila and Z-Morh tunnels in India, following the dumping of 17,345 million tons of rocks, loose soil and silt in the Jhelum River.
India has made substantial progress on its strategic project, a 14.2 km Zojila tunnel and a 6.5 km Z-Morh tunnel currently under construction in the Himalayas between Sonmarg and the town of Drass in the district of Kargil in Kashmir.
The project aims to facilitate Indian Army logistics to the Siachen Glacier and forward garrison posts in Ladakh along the Chinese border. However, this project could spell disaster for Pakistan’s rivers as Indian authorities dump excavated material weighing 17,345 million tonnes of rocks, loose soil and silt in the Jhelum River in Jammu and Kashmir. The flow of sediment into the water can reduce the storage capacity of the Mangla Dam, the sixth largest dam in the world. When Jhelum enters Pakistan at Chakoti, it turns red from the pollutants it carries due to upstream blasting and construction activities.
These construction activities would also increase seismic vulnerability in the area near the Line of Control (LoC). Uncontrolled drilling and blasting during construction could alter tectonic settings and subsequently trigger fragile regions. Air pollution, groundwater pollution, sound drainage and accumulation, traffic problems, the possibility of an earth summit, earthquakes, sedimentation and landslides are some -some of the consequences of drilling and blasting in mountainous terrain.
This information was shared in a letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Special Assistant to Prime Minister Malik Amin Aslam by Arshad H Abbasi, a prominent water and energy expert associated with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). Abbasi was also part of the Track-II dialogue with India on water issues. Along with the letter, he also sent pictures and maps of ongoing tunnel construction activities.
The letter asked the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Climate Change to take note of the large sediment flow in the Jhelum River due to the ecologically disastrous project.
The letter also submitted a recommendation to the PM for the implementation of the Trans-boundary Environment Impact Assessment (TEIA) which the International Court of Justice had introduced as a requirement under general international law in the famous Pulp Mills case. Abbasi said the TEIA of the Zojila tunnel project was imperative to quantify environmental damage and sedimentation flow in Pakistan.
The construction, which began in May 2018, was part of plans to extend the 18.475 km highway between Z-Morh and Zojila. The Z-Morh tunnel was partially opened to traffic on December 10, 2021, while since January 15, 2022, almost 26% of the Zojila tunnel excavation work has been completed.
The estimated excavated material consists of 17,345 million tons of rock, loose soil and silt. India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change illegally allowed the Border Roads Organization (BRO), an arm of the Indian Army, to clear 108 hectares of dense forest in Ganderbal district and 89 hectares from Kargil district for the access road to the tunnels. The site of the two tunnels is located in zone 5, an area prone to earthquakes of intensity MSK IX.
Abbasi reminded the Prime Minister of the case of the Brahmaputra River. When the water in the river turned black in November 2017, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change immediately brought the matter to the attention of Indian Prime Minister Modi, who raised it with the Chinese government. The length of this cross-border river in India was only 916 km, but there was not a single dam along the entire length of the Indian area.
The letter also asked whether India would compensate Pakistan in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake in this area, which was just 16 km from the Line of Control.
Urging the prime minister to find a way to appeal to India for the damage caused by seismic activity in this area, Abbasi also expressed concern over the military objectives of projects in the already fragile region of Ladakh, which lies in the watershed of the Indus and Shyok rivers. Since the creation of the XIV Corps of the Indian Army in Leh, Ladakh, and the illegal occupation of the Siachen Glacier, glaciers in the region were melting at an alarming rate, the letter notes.
The SDPI expert also drew the PM’s attention to principle 19 of the United Nations Rio Declaration, which refers to the importance of procedures, as does the International Law Commission on the prevention of transboundary harm resulting dangerous activities. Principle 19 states: “States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affected States about activities likely to have a significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult with such States at an early and good stage. faith.
The International Court of Justice recognized in 2010, for the first time, that states are required to undertake environmental impact assessments before carrying out projects that may have adverse transboundary effects.