INDIA SEEMS SET TO TIGHTEN WATER FLOWS

SHAMIM RIZVI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

May 23 - 29, 2011

The two- day secretary level talks on the Wullar Barrage between Pakistan and India in Islamabad last week ended inconclusive with the resolve that the matter would be taken forward in accordance with the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), 1960, as both the sides remained glued to their stances throughout the talks. Pakistan was of the view that IWT did not allow the construction of the Wullar Barrage at all whereas India deemed that the issue should be resolved through bilateral negotiations, and in case Islamabad showed some interest, then it was ready to change the design of the project.

Although it was not officially announced but according to an official who participated in the meeting told a group of newspersons on condition of anonymity that it was agreed that the Indian side would provide to Pakistan the comprehensive technical data about the design of the Wullar barrage within one month and Pakistani side would examine the said data and furnish its views by September 15, 2011.

India wants to construct the Wullar barrage at the outfall of Wullar lake on the Jhelum River. It would be 439 feet long with a gated weir and 40 feet wide navigation. It would have a maximum additional storage of over 30 million acre feet of water which would highly curtail the flow of water to Pakistan. The representative of Pakistan on Commission of Indus Water opined that the issue should be resolved in the light of Indus Water Treaty and the breach of Treaty will ultimately lead to a compromise on Pakistan's rights given to it by the Treaty.

India had begun the Wullar barrage construction in 1984 without Pakistan knowing it. Pakistan came to know it in 1986 and protested. The work on the barrage was suspended in 1987. Instead of lodging a formal complaint with the Commission, Pakistan, surprisingly, kept quiet till recently when it learnt that India had again started work on the barrage.

Pakistan is also quite alarmed by an India's plan to build 12 hydropower projects on the Kabul river in Afghanistan which experts say will seriously increase Pakistan water woes which will also be a violation of the Treaty. In another violation of the IWT, India has managed to get approval from the UN for carbon credits for the controversial Nimmo-Bazgo and Chuttak hydropower projects. As per rules of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India is bound to get trans-boundary environmental impact assessment reports from Pakistan to earn carbon credits on these projects. This has not been done.

Another shock came to notice when the commissioner Pakistan Indus Water Commission submitted to Senate Committee on Water some secret documents last week pertaining to mishandling of projects constructed or being constructed by India on Pakistani rivers. These include Baglihar, Uri-11 , Kishanganga besides Nimoo Bazgo and Chutak hydropower projects.

What is more pathetic is the fact that despite having information about these developments, officials of the concerned ministries, either deliberately or sheer inefficiency or criminal neglect, did not take any action to check the Indian designs against Pakistan. According to the documents submitted to the Senate committee by no other person than the Commissioner of Pakistan Indus Water Commission, Sheraz Memon, reveal that the ministry of water and power cleared the Uri-11 project of 240 MW, which was a part and parcel of the Kishanganga project which was in violation of the provisions of the Treaty.

The clearing of the Uri11 project by the concerned Ministry of Pakistan provided ease and justification to India to build the Kishanganga project. Realizing the mistake later on Pakistan initiated a legal battle against India in the court of Arbitration. Experts are, however, of the view that Pakistan has a weak case as it had okayed Uri11 project which was a part of Kishanganga project. Surprisingly, however, no action has been taken against the official or officials who had committed this blunder.

India and Pakistan seem to be on the collision course in the issue of water. Unfortunately, while India seems set to squeeze Pakistan of its share of water as guaranteed in the Treaty while concerned officials of Pakistan mostly sleeping over it.

Adequate water supply is essential for agriculture in Pakistan as it forms the major part of its economy. As a lower riparian, Pakistan should naturally be sensitive to any hint that something done upstream might cause it to loose its share of water. But, there is no indication that India also feels concerned about the worry of Pakistan. Hawks on both sides predict that India and Pakistan may fight a war in the near future. Such a doomsday must be avoided. It is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to solve such irritants in their relations.