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Baglihar sets basis to resolve other disputes, says report

Published Jun 11, 2008 12:00am

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WASHINGTON, June 10: The Baglihar agreement provides a sound basis for the settlement of future water disputes between India and Pakistan, says a report published recently.

The report notes that while settling the India-Pakistan dispute over a dam on the Chenab River, the agreement reinterpreted the Indus Water Treaty in a way that it sets precedents for future settlements as well.

On Jan 5, 2005, Pakistan asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert to settle “a difference” with India over the Baglihar dam because Islamabad believed that the project violated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty for the distribution of rivers water between the two states.

On May 10, 2005, the bank appointed Swiss engineer Raymond Lafitte as a neutral expert for settling the dispute and on Feb 12, 2007 he delivered to the ambassadors of India and Pakistan in Bern, Switzerland, signed copies of his final decision.

“The decision “will most likely influence any future interpretation of the Indus Water Treaty,” observed Salman M. A. Salman, a lead counsel of the World Bank, who has written a detailed report on how the neutral expert resolved the issue.

“Undoubtedly, the process has set precedents in a number of aspects” and “will most likely influence any future interpretation of the Indus Water Treaty,” he noted.

The decision, he said, underscores the notion of the peaceful settlement of international water disputes and “is likely to reshape many of the understandings about the treaty.”

According to the report, Pakistan have viewed the difference as largely a legal one, involving the interpretation of the treaty, while India viewed it mainly as an engineering one, regarding hydropower plants.

The neutral expert concluded that the rights and obligations of the parties under the treaty should be read in the light of new technical norms and new standards as provided for by the treaty.

This meant that the Baglihar difference was addressed bearing in mind the technical standards for hydropower plants as they have developed in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and not as perceived and thought of in 1950s when the treaty was negotiated.

The issues contested by the two parties included: maximum design flood, spillway, being ungated or gated, spillway, level of the gates, artificial raising of the water level, pondage, and level of the power intake.

The first issue on the maximum design flood related to the calculation of the maximum amount of water which can arrive at the dam.

In view of many uncertainties of flood analysis, the neutral expert retained the value proposed by India of 16,500 m3/s, as opposed to 14,900 m3/s proposed by Pakistan, for the peak discharge of the design flood.

He noted that climate change, with the possible associated increase in floods, also encourages a prudent approach.

On the second issue of a gated or ungated spillway, Pakistan considered that a gated spillway was not necessary, and would allow India to control the flow of the river.

The neutral expert determined that the conditions of the site, including hydrology, sediment yield, topography, geology and seismicity, require a gated spillway.

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