Talks begin on India’s disputed hydropower projects

Published March 24, 2021
River Indus flows through Leh, in the Ladakh region. — Reuters/File
River Indus flows through Leh, in the Ladakh region. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: Pakistan and India began their first talks under the Permanent Indus Commission in two and a half years in New Delhi on Tuesday to resolve the longstanding dispute over the hydroelectric projects India is building on the River Chenab.

Reuters news agency quoted an Indian official as playing down prospects for a “breakthrough” in the ongoing talks. Pakistan’s delegation could not be contacted for its comments despite several attempts by Dawn.

Pakistan is concerned that India’s plans for hydroelectric plants — Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai dams — on the Chenab in the disputed region of Kashmir would damage the flow of the river into its territory.

On the other hand, India defends the construction of the dams by saying they are allowed by the Indus Water Treaty brokered by the World Bank.

“It is our job to find a middle path. But to say we can achieve something is maybe a bit too optimistic,” an Indian official involved in the talks told Reuters. “There are many things on which we can’t compromise,” he added.

The talks are set to end on Wednesday (today).

In recent weeks, the two countries have taken some tentative steps like resumption of a ceasefire on the Line of Control to improve ties and conciliatory gestures made by both sides.

Indian official plays down prospects for any breakthrough

Pakistan’s Indus Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah, who is leading the country’s eight-member team, could not be contacted despite attempts as his cell phone remained switched off.

It is the first meeting after India revoked the special status of occupied Kashmir in August 2019, and after a military standoff between the two countries earlier that year in the wake of India’s transgression of Pakistan’s airspace in which the former lost two of its combat aircraft.

The last meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission under the World Bank-brokered Indus Water Treaty was held in Lahore in August 2018.

The Treaty allows India unrestricted use of waters of three eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. The waters of three western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — have been assigned to Pakistan though India is allowed to partially use the waters for generating hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects. Pakistan, however, can object to the projects if it fears that they may enable India to use water for other than hydroelectricity generation purposes and thus cause water scarcity downstream.

Under an agreement reached in 1989 between the two neighbouring states, New Delhi is also required to share data about flood situations in all the rivers in advance so that Islamabad may take precautionary measures accordingly to protect life and property of its citizens.

“We have reservations on the designs shared by India of various hydroelectric projects, including 1,000MW Pakal Dul and 48MW Lower Kalnai it is building on Chenab river against the criteria set for design and operations of the projects in the Indus Water Treaty, M. H. Siddiqui, a former member of Permanent Indus Commission from Pakistan, told Dawn.

Durbuk Shyok (19MW), Shankoo (18.5MW), Nimu Chilling (24MW), Rongdo (12MW), Ratan Nag (10.5MW) in Leh and Mangdum Sangra (19MW), Kargil Hunderman (25MW) and Tamasha (12MW) in Kargil are other Indian hydroelectric projects Pakistan will discuss in the meeting.

“India has been sharing flood situations in all the rivers with us since 1989. But, their cooperation level went down during the last couple years and Pakistani team will surely take up this issue too with its Indian counterpart in the ongoing talks,” Mr Siddiqui said.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2021

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