This week Pakistani Prime Minister received a startling welcome from people of Pakistan- Administrated Kashmir (PAK) with growing demand of transfer of more constitutional, executive and economic clout from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad. Pakistani premier Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Muzaffarabad to inaugurate two tunnel-boring machines in a controversial 969MW Neelum Jhelum Hydroelectric Project (NJHP) being constructed by a Chinese firm.
Pakistan and India are fighting a legal battle at the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) over the construction of the NJHP. The ICA had last year barred India from proceeding with the construction of any “permanent works” on or above the Kishanganga/Neelum River in Indian Kashmir on Kishanganga Dam. The court will hold its final hearing next week at Hague and is expected to pronounce its verdict by the end of this year. This gives Pakistan an opportunity to accelerate its work on the NJHP.
The Pakistan government has been accused of undermining the authority of Muzaffarabad in the implementation of this project. So far, government of Pakistan didn’t make any formal agreement with the government of Pakistani Administrated Kashmir (AJK). From human rights and environmental perspective, this is an open violation of international laws that stop governments and corporate sector form the exploitation of indigenous communities.
Article 8(b) of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples binds countries to provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.
In this backdrop, it is an unquestionable fact that Islamabad has clearly abused the natural resources of the State by delaying and avoiding any provision or guarantee of alternative sources of livelihood to the victims of the project and concerned local authority. Furthermore, the hydroelectric project has adversely impacted indigenous livelihood causing alarming extinctions of hundreds of natural water sources and also disrupting the natural flow of the Neelum (Kishangana) river through its diversion. This forced contraction of the river raises concerns among people living on its banks that fear that at least 90 percent diversion of the water can leave their Capital city Muzaffarabad dry and to be suffered from the worst water crisis.
The logical fear of the victims is also reinforced by emerging call of Civil Society Forum – a pressure group that campaigns for a wide-ranging revamping of existing constitutional framework known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Interim Constitution Act 1974. For its critics, this Constitution, on the one hand gives inequitable and disproportionate authority to Islamabad over State’s natural assets and; on the other hand, it makes disgracefully helpless and toothless those who sit in the so- called corridors of power in Muzaffarbad.
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