LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: India finally agreed on Friday to allow Pakistani experts to inspect its hydropower projects at the Chenab basin — 1,000MW Pakal Dul and 48MW Lower Kalnai — from Jan 28 to 31. India has formally confirmed this through a letter to Pakistan’s office of Indus Waters.

“We have received a letter from Indian Commiss­ioner for Indus Waters Pradeep Kumar Saxena. They have arranged a general tour of inspection for our three-member delegation of experts. Under the schedule, a three-member delegation headed by me will leave for India on Jan 27 and return home on Feb 1,” Commissioner for Indus Waters Syed Mehr Ali Shah told Dawn on Friday.

“The six-day tour includes four days for inspection (Jan 28 to 31) and two days (Jan 27 and Feb 1) for travelling (Pakistan-India-Pakistan),” he said.

Minister hopes New Delhi will show the same spirit in resolving other outstanding issues

The Pakistani delegation will leave for India on Jan 27 via Wagah border. After crossing the border, the exp­erts will proceed to Amritsar for onward travelling to the disputed projects’ areas. They will start inspecting the projects on Jan 28.

“The general tour of inspection is not limited to Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai; we may also visit Ratle hydropower and other projects at the Chenab basin,” Mr Shah said.

As a result of the 115th meeting of the Permanent Commission for Indus Waters (PCIW) held in Lahore in August last year, India had earlier scheduled inspection of the projects at the Chenab basin by Pakistani experts from Oct 7 to 11. But later it postponed the inspection on the pretext of local bodies’ elections in the respective areas.

The Pakistani commissioner had in the last week of October telephoned his Indian counterpart and urged him to give a schedule for the tour of experts in November or first week of December. However, the Indian commissioner was reported to have said it wouldn’t be possible during the first or second week of December due to local Punchayat elections in India-held Kashmir — the area where these projects are located.

But the Pakistani commissioner kept on reminding his Indian counterpart of fulfilling the promise made at the 115th PCIW meeting held on Aug 29-30 last year in Lahore. During the meeting, India had not only agreed to allow Pakistani experts to inspect the two hydropower projects in September, but also the Kishanganga project at Jhelum basin at a later stage.

Reciprocally, Pakistan had also agreed to allow India to carry out inspection of Kotri Barrage over the Indus after September.

In its letter, India’s office for Indus Waters has justified the delay behind the agreed schedule of inspection by the Pakistani experts. “They have clarified that the tour was first scheduled in September and then October. However, it couldn’t be made possible due to local Punchayat elections in the area and then winter session of Indian parliament,” the Pakistani commissioner said.

He termed the scheduling of general tour for inspection of the projects a good sign towards following the Indus Water Treaty signed by the two countries.

India’s gesture welcomed

Talking to Dawn in Islam­abad, Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda said: “We welcome this gesture from India. This is a major breakthrough that India has finally agreed to our request for inspection of Indian projects at Chenab basin.”

He said he believed that the issues could be resolved without raising egos and by taking care of each other’s respect and expressed the hope that India would also show same spirit in resolving other outstanding issues.

The Pakistani water commissioner has been demanding for years the inspection of Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower projects, disputing their designs.

Separately, Pakistan has been struggling for almost three years to convince the World Bank to form a court of arbitration to resolve its dispute with India over construction of the 330MW Kishanganga storage and hydroelectric project on River Jhelum and the 850MW Rattle hydroelectric project on Chenab in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty to its disadvantage after exhausting all bilateral options.

Mehr Ali Shah said the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 envisaged annual visits by Pakistani water commissioner to inspect water and hydroelectric projects on the western rivers, but the process had been stalled since September 2014.

Pakistan had indicated last month to invoke Article 9 of the treaty that empowered any party to seek intervention of the World Bank for appointment of a neutral export or an arbitration court in case of breach of the treaty. That stage did not come as New Delhi agreed to reschedule the inspection tour.

The treaty requires the water commissioners of Pakistan and India to meet twice a year and exchange technical visits to projects’ sites and critical river head works, but Pakistan had been facing a lot of problems in timely meetings and visits.

Pakistan has objections to pondage and freeboard of the Lower Kalnai project and pondage, filling criteria and spillway of the Pakal Dul project.

Pakal Dul is a storage-cum-power project and can have gross storage of about 108,000 acres feet of water. The project design envisages its filling in 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 water treaty.

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

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019