ISLAMABAD: Two-day Pakis­tan-India Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) talks concluded here on Tuesday on a positive note as India withdrew the design of a smaller hydropower project and agreed to reconsider Pakistan’s observations on two others.

There was, however, no commitment from the visiting side to halt construction work on the controversial projects, indicating India’s traditional time-gaining approach to project development.

This was evident from the fact that a senior member of the Pakistani team confirmed that construction work on the Lower Kalnai project was in progress while that on the Pakul Dal project was yet to start. Both projects are on two different tributaries of the Chenab River.

Talks end as New Delhi withdraws design of smaller hydropower project

When asked by Dawn if India had given any assurance to stop constructions, the official requesting anonymity said he would not talk beyond an official statement.

A former water and power secretary said it was a pattern from all the previous controversial projects like Baglihar and Kishanganga that New Delhi engaged Islamabad in technicalities and kept civil and side works moving for years until reaching a fait accompli stage when challenged in international forums.

The Pakistani side was led by Indus Waters Commissioner Mirza Asif Baig while his counterpart P.K. Saxena led the Indian delegation.

A statement issued by the water and power ministry at the conclusion of the talks said India had withdrawn its design on the Miyar hydropower project after Pakistan raised objections to it at the commission’s previous meetings. It said the 113th meeting of the PIC held discussions on India’s proposed Miyar, Lower Kalnai and Pakal Dal hydropower projects as well as matters relating to exchange of data and conducting tours and meetings of the commission.

On the other two projects discussions were held on Pakistan’s prior objections to pondage and freeboard of Lower Kalnai and freeboard and spillway of Pakal Dul hydropower projects.

“The Indian side has agreed to reconsider Pakistan’s observations on these projects and will respond in the next meeting of the commission,” the statement said.

The Indian side also agreed to inspection tour by the Pakistan’s Indus Commission which is expected to be arranged before August. The Pakistani side asked India to provide data of outflows of Baglihar and Salal dams (on the Chenab) during the flood season so that it could issue early flood warnings.

“The Indian side has agreed to consider Pakistan’s request and it is expected that India would start providing the required data starting from the coming flood season,” the statement said.

Insiders said Pakistan had already withdrawn its objections to freeboard of the 1000MW Pakal Dul project located on the Marusadar River — a right bank tributary of the Chenab. Pakistan has raised objections to its pondage, spillway and filling criteria.

It is a storage-cum-power project and can have gross storage of about 108,000 acre feet of water. The project design envisaged its filling every monsoon season between mid-June and end-August.

Pakistan is of the opinion that the tunnel spillway of Pakal Dul should be raised closer to the dead storage level because its placement 40 metres below the dead storage level could allow drawdown flushing not permitted to India under the 1960 waters treaty.

On the 48MW Lower Kalnai project, Pakistan has raised objections to its freeboard, pondage and intake. Islamabad is of the view that depth of bridge girder and provision of freeboard should be close to one metre and considers two-metre freeboard as ‘excessive’.

Pakistan has also challenged the discharge series of river Lower Kalnai at Dunadi for winter months and estimated permissible pondage of 0.38 cubic megametres compared to Indian design pondage of 2.74 cubic megametres.

The Lower Kalnai project is on a left bank tributary of Chenab and can have gross storage of about 1,508 acre feet of water.

Pakistan has also raised objections to freeboard, pondage, spillway and intake of the 120MW Miyar hydroelectric project on the right bank Miyar tributary of Chenab. It is also a run-of-the-river project but the barrage type structure could have gross storage of about 1,298 acre feet of water.

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

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2017