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Hydropower projects: Pakistan to resume its legal battle for rivers with India at The Hague

May 10, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India would again resume their legal battle on Thursday in the Court of Arbitration (CoA) in The Hague on the controversial designs of the 330MW Kishenganga and 850MW Ratle Hydropower projects, a senior government official told The News.

Pakistan’s delegation, headed by secretary Water Resources Ministry, Pakistan’s commissioner of Indus Waters, top officials of the Attorney General’s Office, and a team of international lawyers hired by the government would advocate the country’s case for justice on May 11-13, the official said.

India has so far completed the Kishenganga project with an objectionable design on the Jhelum River and is in the process to construct the Ratle project on the Chenab River.

The CoA earlier held the first hearing on January 27-28 with the imposition of restrictions on India, and Pakistan that nothing would be shared with the media till the final verdict. “Pakistan has already pitched its case with the court of arbitration. And many more hearings will be held till the conclusion of the case,” the official added.

India, according to the Indian media, had boycotted the CoA proceedings on January 27-28, arguing that on both projects there were differences, not disputes, so the case should be listened to by a neutral expert.

However, Pakistan wants the CoA to listen to the case as there are disputes on the designs of both projects.

India fears that Pakistan’s case is very strong and in case New Delhi loses the fight, it would not be able to construct future projects on Pakistani rivers with poundage and spillways. Thus, to create hurdles, New Delhi issued a notice to Pakistan on January 25, seeking modifications in the Treaty two days before the hearing of the CoA in The Hague. “India had extended the notice by invoking Article 12 of the treaty,” the official pointed out.

In the first week of April, Pakistan sent its response to India on the notice, saying it was ready to listen to New Delhi’s concerns about the prevalent treaty at the level of the Permanent Commission of Indus Waters (PCIW).

The World Bank had earlier constituted the CoA Pakistan’s demand. Likewise, it also formed a one-man neutral expert as was demanded by India. The World Bank on October 17 appointed Sean Murphy as chairman of the CoA and Michel Lino as the neutral expert.

Pakistan and India already also attended on February 27-28 the first hearing by Lino in The Hague, where the rules of procedures on how to advance the legal fight on the designs of both the projects being built on Pakistan’s rivers by India were finalised.

Pakistan has raised three objections to the Kishenganga project’s design saying that the pondage of the project is 7.5 million cubic metres, which is excessive and it should be one million cubic meters. Pakistan also wants India to raise intake by up to 1-4 meters and also raise the spillways up to nine meters high.

On the issue of the Ratle Hydropower plant, Islamabad raised four objections. Pakistan wants India to maintain the freeboard at one meter whereas India wants to keep it at two meters. In addition, India wants to keep the pondage of 24 million cubic meters but Pakistan wants it to be restricted to eight million cubic meters. Pakistan also wants the intake of the project should be raised by up to 8.8 meters and its spillways should be raised by up to 20 meters.

“Pakistan’s case is very strong. In the case of interpretation of Treaty with reference to the Kishenganga, The Hague court has already given the verdict on the issues of drawdown and pondage in favour of Pakistan. So we are certain that Pakistan will win the case,” the official said.

The 850MW Ratle Hydropower project, if constructed under its existing objectionable design, will reduce the water flow of Chenab River at Head Marala by 40 percent, which will be detrimental to the irrigation in central Punjab of Pakistan. India has awarded the contract of the Ratle project to a private company that will run the project on BOT (build, operate, and transfer) basis for 35 years and then hand over the project to India.