LAHORE: The stalled negotiations between India and Pakistan on crucial water sharing issues finally seem to be back on track as the former has officially intimated holding talks in New Delhi before May 31, an official confirmed here on Wednesday.
As both Pakistan and India are reeling under a catastrophic heatwave and unprecedented drought conditions, the cooperation between them on water-related developments and judiciously sharing of trans-boundary rivers assume immense importance and it emerged that the governments of neighbouring countries realised it lately.
“Negotiations between Pakistan and India on water issues are going to be held by the end of this month or in the first week of June as various options are being consulted. After much reluctance, India finally agreed to sit with Pakistan for holding talks at bilateral arrangements under the Permanent Indus Waters Commission. It is really great news for the people of the subcontinent following a lull as India had been non-responsive for the last several weeks over holding meetings under the ambit of the Indus Waters Treaty,” the official said. The final dates, agenda and logistical details were expected to be shared soon, he added.
Earlier, despite several attempts made by Pakistan’s Indus Water Commission for several weeks, India failed to confirm holding of already agreed round of talks in addition to sharing other related details. A senior official of the commission confirmed on May 8 that India virtually put on hold water talks with Pakistan as it has yet not decided about organizing an upcoming bilateral moot.
With a view to holding a consultative moot prior to formal talks between the two countries, Pakistan’s Indus Waters Commission arranged a preparatory meeting with key stakeholders on May 18 to solicit comments over several water sector developments that need to be taken up with India in the upcoming parleys. According to the agenda of the preparatory meeting, stakeholders of water sector like federal and provincial institutions/departments including Water & Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Irrigation Departments and NESPAK have been asked to participate in the meeting virtually and in-person.
Besides preparing a case for continuity of exchanging flood data and proposed tours and inspection of water works, Pakistan would particularly raise objection over the under-construction 1,000MW Pakal Dul Hydroelectric Project being built by India on the Chenab River in the Kishtwar district of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). The main feature of the project that attracts attention of the Pakistani side has been its storage component of over 0.1 million acre feet.
The Pakal Dul Hydroelectric Project costing $1.95bn will be the biggest hydroelectric project in the state and the first with significant gross storage of 101,670 acre feet of water upon completion. The foundation stone of the project was laid in May 2018 and it is expected to be completed by end-2023 and is stated to be launched commercially by March 2024. The power generation capacity in terms of unit produce is estimated to be 3.33 billion units per annum. It is part of massive cascading of the Chenab River by upper riparian India with series of planned, under construction and completed hydropower and storage projects including Bursar Hydroelectric Project, Dul Hasti, Rattle, Baglihar, Sawalkot, and Salal.
According to apprehensions of Pakistan, the lower riparian country, the damming of the Chenab River in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty would substantially enhance the water holding capacity, especially during the lean flow months, restricting the water course downstream as and when desired.
Meanwhile, in a new development, it is learnt that India refused to share the engineering design of the 540MW Kwar Hydroelectric Project being built on the Chenab River in IIOJ&K. India claimed that the work on associated components of the project is currently under way and no immediate plan is in place to start work on the main project. Hence, there is no need to share the project design.
As per the Indus Waters Treaty, India is bound to share the design of any planned water infrastructure on western rivers six months before initiating construction. According to provisions of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, the two countries share the waters of six rivers in the Indus Basin. Pakistan has extensive rights over the western rivers, including Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus except limited diversion for domestic and irrigation use in IIOJ&K while India has rights over the eastern rivers including Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.