The Neelum–Jhelum Hydropower Plant is part of a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power scheme in Pakistan, designed to divert waters from the Neelum River to a power station on the Jhelum River. The power plant is seen as a rival to Kishan Ganga power plant in India as both of them essentially draw water from the same source, which is the Neelum river. Neelum rivers portion in the Indian territory is known as the Kishan Ganga river.
To access the environmental impact of Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Plant, class of international environmental law and international finance law, SAHSOL, LUMS went to Azad Kashmir under the supervision of Professor Sikander Shah and Dr. Faiza Ismail. Dr. Shehla Waqar, Secretary Forest, AKLASC, Wildlife and Fisheries AJK Govt. facilitated a field trip to the plant.
The first day of the visit constituted of the journey from Lahore to Muzaffarabad. Visitors reached Muzaffarabad at midnight. On the second day, there was a sightseeing visit to Peer Chinasi which is a famous tourist destination spot. Later that day there was a journey to Patikka and overnight stay at over-the-river restaurant. Patikka is a small valley next to the river Neelum and comes in the way to the Nowsehri power plant.
The power plant is divided into three main parts C1, C2 and C3. C1 was the first stop which is the Nowsehri point. The water is accumulated and diverted from this point to the generation plant C3 through an underground tunnel. The C2 part is where the tunnel is divided into two tunnels. This is the main area where electricity is generated. The environmental impact of the plant was clearly evident to the students on two fronts:
First: the huge tunnel which transforms into two underground tunnels at one point left the entire landscape of the river bed barren. This directly affects the biology, chemical and physical properties of the river and its surroundings.
Secondly, according to the agreement between the Government of Pakistan and Government of Azad Kashmir, the minimum flow has to be discharged in the Neelum river. However, the minimum discharge has been quite low to meet the water requirements of Muzaffarabad. Visitors witnessed the people of Azad Kashmir protesting against the power plant.
The Neelum-Jehlum power plant came recently into operation. Even though feasibility studies have been made to try to ensure that the environmental impact of the plant is minimum, however, it is still unclear to what extent the plant is going to change the ecology of the area. What is clear is that people of Azad Kashmir are facing serious challenges in meeting their water needs as there are no alternatives. Pakistan considers it a great victory that they built their plant before India. It may be politically a victory but the detrimental impacts the area faces and will have to face in the future is a too heavy price to pay.