The Mangla dam project was conceived as a multipurpose project in the 1950s, and its initial investment and feasibility studies were concluded in 1958 (1). It was the first dam to be built as a part of the Indus Basin Project as per the Indus water treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960. This treaty was signed under the aegis of the World Bank and assigned the three Eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) to India and three Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum & Chenab) to Pakistan (2). The site of the dam is located in the Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), also known as Azad Kashmir, which is a supposedly self-governing administrative division of Pakistan, and has been a constant source of territorial conflict over India and Pakistan.
The construction of Mangla dam was started in March 1963, and took a little more than 4 years to complete in June, 1967. It cost $ 434.505 million and was funded by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. It consisted of four embankment dams, two spillways, five power cum irrigation tunnels and a power station with an installed generation capacity of 3360 MW. The main dam was 10,300 feet long and 380 feet high above the riverbed with a reservoir of 97.7 square miles (3). In 1974, its generation capacity was increased by commissioning two more units each of 100 MW. In 1981, the power generation capacity was further enhanced by installing two additional units, each of 100 MW, which was followed by the construction of two more units in the year 1993-1994 each of 100 MW. The cumulative production from all the ten operating units is 1000 MW (4).
In 2001, the Musharraf-led Pakistan government announced that the height of the Mangla dam will be raised to increase its live storage capacity and maximize the hydropower potential of river Jhelum. In 2003, the Mangla Dam Raising Project (MDRP) was signed to raise the height of the Mangla reservoir from 1,202 feet to 1,252 feet, giving it an increased capacity of 3.1 million acre feet (MAF) of water (5). It was officially initiated in July 2004 with a project cost of Rs. 96.853 billion. The project was completed in December 2009 with the raised height of dam equal to 30 feet with maximum permissible water level of 1242 feet (above mean sea level). The entire process of dam construction and renovations has been accompanied by conflicts and protests from the local people. Since the 1960s and continuing even today, it has resulted in massive losses for the local people which include decline in livelihood, homelessness, loss of identity and uncertain future (3).
The dam was constructed without the consent of local people under the first military dictator of Pakistan, Gen. Ayyub Khan, on the disputed territory of Jammu Kashmir (6). There were large-scale protests even then, where people from different communities, professions, ages and gender opposed the dam and the local political leadership stood with the people. However, the military with orders from Islamabad was used to crush these protests (3).
Local people claim that even today, after a lapse of 40 years, some 10 thousand families out of those who were evicted and displaced for the building of the dam are still displaced. It is often wrongly assumed (and also miswritten in prominent media) that thousands of families who were displaced during the construction of the dam, used the compensation to move to United Kindgom (7).
But Ballard (1991) points out that the evidence shows that ´the origins of Mirpur´s migratory initiative long antedated the construction of Mangla dam´ (8). This is consistent with the claims of the local people. Hence, in 2001, when the announcement for the Mangla dam raising project was made, local people who still hadn´t been compensated adequately from the construction in the 1960s reacted sharply. The inevitable displacement for the second time with more unfulfilled promises resulted in mass protests.
On 30 September, 2002, a demonstration was organized to coincide with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s visit to the area in order to lay the foundation stone for the building of the Mangla Dam extension, with the objective to denounce the displacement of 90,000 to 100,000 people as a result of the construction project (6). It was organized by JKNAP, Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF), Anti-Dam Extension Committee and All Parties National Alliance (APNA). This protest soon turned ugly. The Pakistani armed forces used copious amount of tear gas as well as baton to control the peaceful protestors (9). 13 people were imprisoned, included the spokesperson of the protest campaign, Mohammed Arif, while many were injured and taken to a local hospital (6).
The rise in discontentment and protests in Mirpur, as is the case in most conflicts, is because the costs and benefits are reaped by different communities. The advantages of the Mangla dam, which includes cheap electricity, irrigation facilities and prevention from flooding is enjoyed by the rest of Pakistan, whereas the people who live in the immediate upstream of the dam, bear the environmental costs, which include disappearance of the fertile agriculture land, submergence of two of the district´s market towns- Mirpur and Chaomukh, and hindrance in transport and communication (8). The people of Azad Kashmir in general, and Mirpur in particular feel that they are paying the cost of development for the rest of the country. This feeling of ´othering´ is further alleviated when despite having the dam, the area still doesn´t get proper access to electricity. This was intensified in May 2013, when during frequent and prolonged power cuts, hundreds of people took to the streets in Mirpur. Violence ensued when the police tried to stop them from marching to the Mangla powerhouse, and atleast 30 people were injured when the police open-fired. In retaliation, protestors threw stones at the police and torched a vehicle belonging to the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). At least a dozen other vehicles, including 20 motorcycles, were also damaged in the clashes that continued for several hours (10). Unfortunately, this pattern of violence during protests and at the protesters has been consistent throughout these last six decades. In as recent as July 2016, over 25 protesters from Banahal village demanding payment for compensation for those displaced by the dam’s rising project were arrested. The protesters marched towards the Kallar Syedan-Rawalpindi road where they staged a sit-in and blocked the road for traffic. This was because the promised compensations had been delayed for more than four years and some 59 families, affected by the project continue to live in other people’s houses (11).
Yet, despite these frequent protests demanding allotment of promised plots for building homes (12) and provided better infrastructure (13) neither have rightful compensations been provided, not consultations of the local people sought for further constructions and renovations of the dam. In November 2012, the United States of America announced a grant of $150 million dollars for the expansion of the Mangla Dam power plant (14). In March 2014, United States through USAID signed another $72 million project for refurbishing and upgrading the dam which will fund the renovation of two generators and the modernization of ancillary equipment of the power house at the dam, meant to improve the reliability and efficacy of the Mangla dam for the next 40 years (15). The government of Pakistan continues to make promises (16). Only time will tell whether these new investments will bring more contentions or whether it will facilitate the compensation and rehabilitation of the people paying the price of development.