ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Marking the revival of bilateral engagement at the institutional level after two years, a 10-member Indian delegation led by Indian Indus Water Commissioner P.P. Saxena arrived on Sunday for two-day talks on the designs, disputed by Pakistan, of three controversial water projects being built on river Chenab.

The water experts of the two sides at the level of Permanent Indus Commission last met in May 2015 in New Delhi and could not hold mandatory annual meetings since then despite repeated requests by Islamabad.

The two sides would not discuss the controversial Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects on which Pakistan is seeking international court of arbitration (ICA) through the World Bank, a senior official told Dawn. He explained that the World Bank was at the advanced stage of appointing an ICA, hence not on the bilateral agenda.

Controversial Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects will not come under discussion

The teams led by Mr Saxena and Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner Mirza Asif Beg would open formal talks on Monday before leaving for Lahore in the evening where the talks would conclude on Tuesday. The visiting delegation would leave for New Delhi the same day.

The officials said that Pakistan had raised objections to the designs of three projects on Chenab it considered being built by India in violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. These include Pakul Dal of 1,000MW, Miyar of 120MW and Lower Kalnai of 48MW.

The two sides will exchange data on river flows and try to finalise the schedule of future meetings and tours of inspections by Pakistani water engineering experts to the various rivers and project sides across the Line of Control.

An official said that Pakistan’s objections to the three projects led the Indian side to agree on putting them on the agenda of the meeting. He said Pakul Dal, a mega project with a proposed generation capacity of 1,000MW, would be built on Chenab and would be able to store nearly one million acres feet of water. The project design envisaged its filling every monsoon season between mid-June and end-August.

Pakistan would seek details of the project and engineering designs and raise specific questions and objections and expect the visiting delegation to satisfy the hosts with envisaged changes.

Officials said the two sides had previously scheduled their annual meeting in September last year with systematic delays caused by New Delhi when Prime Minister Modi declared unilateral suspension of talks and announced speeding up hydropower projects on Pakistani rivers.

An official said India was entitled to store about 3.6m acres feet on Pakistani rivers and almost one-fourth of that quantity could be exploited through Pakul Dal.

In addition, Pakistan has also objected to the design of the 120MW Miyar hydro­power project on Miyar Nullah — a major tributary of Chenab on its right bank. The project involves a barrage, head race tunnel, surge shaft, penstocks and tail race channel.

The Miyar project has the capacity to discharge about 61.35 cusecs of water. Islamabad’s objections on the project relate to the barrage height, intake height, head and tail race channels and discharge levels.

Likewise, the 48MW Lower Kalnai project would also be located on river Chenab and impact Pakistan’s water rights, an official said.

Under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, waters of the eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — had been allocated to India and the western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — to Pakistan, except for certain non-consumptive uses for India.

Earlier, the Indian delegation arrived in Lahore through Wagah. It was received by officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and Pakistan Indus water commission office.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017