Indus Water Commissioners of India and Pakistan are set to hold a two-day dialogue in Amritsar on March 20 and 21 after a lull of two years on Indus Water Treaty. The treaty which was signed 57 years ago bounds India and Pakistan to hold a meeting every year. However, the authorities did not convene any in the past two years due to tensions among the two countries.
The Indus Water Treaty is a water distribution agreement that was signed on September, 1960 in Karachi by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan. It was the World Bank that orchestrated the pact under which control over six north Indian rivers was divided between India and Pakistan.
While India got control over Beas, Ravi and Sutlej, Pakistan was given Indus, Chenub and Jhelum. The rivers controlled by Pakistan actually do not originate there. Instead, they enter the country through India. Indus originates in China while the Chenab and Jhelum originate in India. According to the Treaty, India is allowed to use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus River.
To put pressure on Pakistan after the Uri attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at the Treaty saying “blood and water cannot flow together”. During a press briefing, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “For any such treaty to work, mutual trust and co-operation is important. It cannot be a one-sided affair”.
The Indian government has suggested modifications in the Treaty while the Pakistan Government has said that no changes will be accepted.
Pakistan has objected to the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects – being built by India in Jammu and Kashmir – on the grounds that they violate the 1960 Indus Water Treaty between the two countries. The Kishanganga Project is on a tributary of the Jhelum while the Ratle Project is on the Chenab.
Following a diplomatic spat, India has decided to fast-track water projects worth 15billion USD in Kashmir. Six hydro projects in Indian Kashmir either cleared viability tests or the more advanced environment and forest expert approvals in the last three months, two officials in India’s Water Resources Ministry and the Central Electricity Authority said separately.
Together these projects on the Chenab river, a tributary of the Indus, would triple hydropower generation in Jammu and Kashmir from the current level of 3,000 MW, the biggest jump in decades, added the officials. The largest project being that of the 1856 MW Sawalkote plant.
“We have developed barely one-sixth of the hydropower capacity potential in the state in the last 50 years,” the senior official at the Water Resources Ministry said.
India has asked the World Bank not to rush in to resolve a dispute with Pakistan on the Indus Water Treaty. Indian officials told a World Bank representative that any differences can be resolved bilaterally or through a neutral expert since the objections represented by Pakistan are ‘technical’. Pakistan had dismissed this suggestion earlier and is seeking full court arbitration.
The World Bank had agreed to a court of arbitration and then to the appointment of a neutral expert, leading to objections by both the countries. With nothing decided on the January 5 meeting in New Delhi, the World Bank representatives had gone to Islamabad from New Delhi to continue this effort.
Under the Indus Water Treaty, India is allowed only non-consumptive water from the three western rivers in the Indus basin.
The Kishanganga and the Ratle Projects are run-of-the-river hydropower projects that do not hold back any water, to generate electricity, though Pakistan’s objection is about the height of the gates in the dams from which water is allowed to flow downstream.
The Pakistani Government approached the World Bank last September saying the design of the Kishanganga Project was not in line with the criteria laid down under the IWT. “Since the Kishanganga Project has been going on for years, the inordinate delay by Islamabad to approach the World Bank would give India more time to complete its projects”, said Jamait Ali Shah, former Indus Water Commissioner on behalf of the Pakistani Government.
For a while now, Pakistan has also wanted to bring China into the picture. At the sixth meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the CPEC which was held in Beijing on December 29, a special group on water storage was formed to pre-empt any “severe water crisis” impacting economic and food security of Pakistan.
India, on the other hand, is setting up a task force to examine what projects it could undertake in the three western rivers of the Indus basin under the ambit of the Indus Water Treaty.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said he would confer with the Ministry of Water and Power on the proposed Indian projects, saying it was a technical matter. He noted, however, that India would be attending a regular meeting of the Indus Commission later this month in Lahore, even though the broader peace dialogue was on hold.