Massive protests in PoK’s Muzaffarabad against China-backed hydropower projects

New Delhi (NVI): Massive protests rocked Muzaffarabad city in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Monday night as local residents held a torch rally against the illegal construction of dams by Chinese firms on Neelum-Jhelum River.

Over a thousand people from Muzaffarabad city and other parts of PoK attended the rally, shouting slogans against the illegal construction of dams. The protesters highlighted environmental impacts caused by the dams constructed by Pakistan and China.

The protesters shouted slogans like “Paani hamara kabja tumhara, namanjoor namanjoor,” (Our water, your occupancy); “Janglaat hamare, kabja tumhara” (our forests, your occupancy), “Bijli hamari, badmashi tumhari” (our electricity, your mischief).

A similar protest was witnessed last month in Muzaffarabad against the illegal construction of Dams on the Neelam and Jhelum rivers.

A Social media campaign on Twitter trend with Hashtag #SaveRiversSaveAJK was also launched to highlight the issue on global platform.

Pakistan and China had recently signed agreements to construct Azad Pattan and Kohala Hydropower Projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Azad Pattan Hydel Power Project of 700.7 megawatts of electricity as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was signed on July 6, 2020.

The $1.54 billion projects will be sponsored by the China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC).

For Kohala hydropower project in PoK, a tripartite agreement was signed between a Chinese company and the governments of Pakistan and China for construction of a 1,124 megawatt hydropower project costing 2.4 billion dollar.

While Kohala project was is still under construction, the Neelum Jhelum was completed more than a year ago.

The Kohala hydropower plant, being built on Jhelum river in PoK under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has been awarded to Kohala Hydropower Company Ltd (KHCL), which is a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC).

There has been a growing dissatisfaction among people and environmentalists in the region over these hydropower projects which has triggered mass protests and destruction of public property time and again.

Environmentalists say the big dams in the region are damaging water sources, causing an acute shortage of water for locals.

Pakistan is facing the problem of mismatch between energy supply and demand in the country and the situation is expected to worsen in the coming years.

But what has irked the locals in PoK is the presence of Chinese companies in the region. China and Pakistan have been trying to exploit the natural resources of PoK while ignoring environmental concerns.

Also, Pakistan has been grappling with a severe economic crisis, so it is seeing CPEC as a golden opportunity to revive its economy by providing China access to Middle East.

In 2015, Beijing announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of its intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with an aim to expand its influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia. CPEC includes plans to create road, rail and oil pipeline links to improve connectivity between China and the Middle East via Pakistan.