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Volume 4, No. 8 - June - July 2005

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Far from settling down, the dust over Baglihar Hydropower project dispute in Jammu and Kashmir is still raging. And here is another power project, the Kishanganga, in the eye of a storm.

Despite visits, inspections, assurances and several rounds of meetings over many years, India and Pakistan have not been able to resolve the Baglihar dispute so far. Pakistan went ahead to approach the World Bank which negotiated the Indus Water Treaty between the two countries in 1960. The Bank has now appointed an Umpire, in a bid to resolve the differences.

New Delhi has announced that it will cooperate fully with the umpire. Fortunately, Pakistan has concurred with the name of the Umpire selected by India out of the names proposed by the World Bank. How long will it take to resolve the dispute is anybody’s guess. The verdict will be binding on both countries, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty. But the Bank has no machinery to get the verdict implemented.

As if this was not enough another power project Kishanganga in Baramullah district of Kashmir, has raised its ominous head. Pakistan has raised objections to the construction of the 330 Mw project, saying it will affect water supply to it. Under the Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan has the rights over Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers, leaving Sutluj Beas and Ravi for India.

The Kishanganga project on the LOC is a run of the river scheme. It envisages diverting part of the water of river Kishangunga for power generation and releasing it back into the Jhelum to flow into Pakistan. The two main objections Pakistan has raised are on account of its design and diversion of water.

India has been saying that any difference on the design related matter can be ironed out through mutual discussions and diversion would not affect the supply of water to Pakistan since the entire water will go back to Jhelum river and flow into Pak Occupied Kashmir. This does not seem to satisfy Pakistan, which has been threatening of going for arbitration on this project as well.

For now, the two countries have agreed to give a three-month time to resolve the dispute and have held one round of negotiations. Given the mood on the other side, expect a breakthrough is chasing a mirage and the talks are a proforma exercise by all means.

India has offered to Pakistan that it would address all its concerns. Even “practical modifications and changes” have also been put on the table for consideration, if Pakistan substantiates its objections. The Commissioner for permanent Indus water Commission Mr. D.K.Mehta expects his Pakistani Counterpart Jamat Ali Shah to be equally cooperative and provide requisite data to India.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abaas Jilani asserts that Pakistan wants resolution of this issue in accordance with the parameters of Indus Water Treaty. It has been India’s case too that the Treaty should be adhered to in letter and spirit and should not be used to create impediments in utilising river waters for power generation.

And the Treaty does not prevent India from using the river water for power generation, although it does put some restrictions on storage, which could be detrimental to the other country’s interests. About Pakistan’s complaint of the reduction of water supply to it, India has been arguing that even if the water is diverted into the Jhelum, it finally goes to Pakistan only and as such there is no reduction in the quantum of water flowing into Pakistan.

In any case Kishanganga River or Neelum as it is known across the LOC meets the Jhelum River near Muzaffarabad. With the project coming up on the Indian side the diverted water will meet Jhelum on the Indian side before flowing into Pakistan.

Pakistan plans to build a power project in Occupied Kashmir, on the Neelum. And hence its objection to our project.  How can Pakistan justify its objections to stall a project in advanced stage of construction? Had there been a project in existence, the objection would perhaps have been valid.

The Kishanganga project has already undergone lot of delay. It was conceived about 20 years ago but for one or the other reason could not be executed. With power being so crucial not only to Jammu and Kashmir but to other parts of Northern India as well, any further delay will undermine economic activity. By blocking its execution, Pakistan too is not going to gain anything.

It is therefore prudent for both sides to accommodate each others point of view to the extent possible and let the people of Jammu and Kashmir get some relief on the power front. Pakistan has been claiming to be a ‘real’ friend of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But it is now for the second time that it has raised objections to the construction of a power project in the state.

For Jammu and Kashmir, the Indus water Treaty has been a major cause of concern. It has been preventing it to exploit water resources even for power generation, let alone irrigation. The state has the potential of producing 20,000 MW of hydro electric power but can not do so due to repeated complaints by Pakistan.

This is the reason why most Kashmir politicians have begun demanding abrogation of the Treaty itself. When it was signed in 1960, India wanted to protect the interests of the lower riparian neighbour. If Pakistan continues to raise objections every time India starts working on a project, without in any way reducing the water flow into its territory, it is bound to create new friction between the two neighbours. 

Courtesy: Syndicate Features

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