When on March 20-21, 2017, on the eve of World Water Day, India and Pakistan’s Permanent Indus Commission met in Islamabad for its 113rd meeting, there was a lot at stake besides the immediate issue or even the Indus Treaty.
In many ways, the Indus Treaty remains a bright spot in relations between these two neighbors and the treaty keeps bringing them back to the talking table…This is the magic of a shared river!
The Permanent Indus Commission, under the 1960 treaty between the two nations, provides an institutional arrangement for sharing information, cooperation and dialogue and also provides means to resolving questions, differences and disputes, as defined in the elaborate treaty in which the World Bank also has a permanent role. The World Bank and the US government played a role in arriving at the treaty in years leading to 1960 and in the current meeting too, it seems.
The 1960 Indus treaty[i] gives India unfettered rights to use the waters of three eastern rivers, namely, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, while restricts India’s rights about irrigation, hydropower and storage in the three western rivers, namely Chenab, Jhelum and Indus. As the World Bank repeatedly says on its website, “The Indus Waters Treaty 1960 is seen as one of the most successful international treaties and has withstood frequent tensions between India and Pakistan, including conflict.”[ii]
The Indus Commission meeting is now happening after almost two years[iii], since the July 2016 scheduled meeting was cancelled due to prevailing tensions in the aftermath of the Uri and Pathankot attacks on Indian territory and Indian Prime Minister famously declaring that water and blood cannot flow together.
In the meanwhile, the questions by Pakistan on India’s 850 MW Ratle Hydropower project on Chenab river in Kashmir and the 330 MW Kishanganga hydropower project in Jhelum basin, have graduated to disputes as interpreted by Pakistan and differences as understood by India. So India asked World Bank to appoint a neutral expert, as provided in the Indus Treaty to resolve differences, while Pakistan wanted the World Bank to set up a Court of Arbitration for resolving the disputes about these projects. Now, it seems, following the current Islamabad talks, a secretary level (above the commissioner level talks that is now ongoing in Islamabad) meeting will happen in Washington under the aegis of the World Bank, during April 11-13, 2017 to discuss way forward on these two projects.
In the meantime, Pakistan has raised questions about three more Indian projects, namely, 1000 MW Pakal Dul project and 48 MW Lower Kalnai project, both in Chenab basin in Kashmir and the 120 MW Miyar project in Chenab tributary in Himachal Pradesh[iv]. In the now ongoing meeting, Pakistan has demanded designs of these projects and could raise objections on these in future. Media is also speculating about the impact of India’s proposed 1856 MW Sawalkote hydropower project[v], recently given environmental clearance.[vi] A widely reported story by Reuters on March 16, 2017[vii] questioned why India is pushing so many projects in Kashmir in a hurry, including Kwar, Kiru, Bursar, Kirthai I and II, Sawalkote Hydropower projects besides others. Some hawks who illogically connect India’s water crisis with Indus treaty and call to abandon it, calling the treaty as hubris and albatross are clearly barking up the wrong tree.[viii]
An interesting agenda for the current meeting of Permanent Indus committee is the proposal from Pakistan to monitor the climate change impact on the Indus tributaries. Paragraph 29 of Annexure G of Indus Waters Treaty mentions the international conventions and customary international law, which can be invoked in this context.[ix] The impact of climate change is already visible on these rivers and monitoring and sharing of information about this will certainly benefit both the countries and should be a welcome proposal leading to early action.
There are many issues that Pakistan faces in the Indus basin in terms of mismanagement of the huge quantity of water that the Indus treaty allocates to Pakistan. The people of Sindh, at the tail end of the river system within Pakistan, were marching earlier this month from March 1 to 14, demanding more water from the upstream states.[x] [xi]
In the past, Pakistan has raised the dispute about Indian projects and taken it to the next level, to the Neutral Expert in case of Baglihar Hydropower Project and to the Court of Arbitration in case of Kishanganga hydropower project. In both cases, the dispute resolution mechanism did not agree with the Pakistan contention that these projects were in violation of the Treaty and hence should be disallowed. However, the neutral expert in case of Baglihar Hydropower project and the Court of Arbitration in case of Kishanganga Project[xii] directed India to make changes in the structure and operations of the projects. This could encourage Pakistan to hope for similar verdicts in more disputes that it is seeking to raise on the Indian projects on Western Rivers.
The media here needs to play a more mature, balanced role. We need to ensure full and proper environmental, social and disaster impact assessments of each project we take up in this basin and also basin level cumulative impact assessments in case of multiple projects in the same basin. We also need to take the local communities and the larger state and civil society into confidence about these decisions.
In today’s power scenario in India, when we have surplus electricity, when plant load factors of thermal power projects are going down for lack of demand, when price of electricity in electricity exchanges has crashed several fold, when efficiency of our use of electricity is going up and can go up further and when the option of solar and wind is opening up in an unprecedented manner. When these options and existing projects can provide electricity at a lower cost and impacts and when our rivers, forests and biodiversity in fragile Himalayas need to be protected, also in the context of climate change, there is no undue hurry to push more hydropower projects in the Indus basin in particular and Himalayas in general.
When our impact assessments, consultations, appraisals, compliance and options assessment leave so much to be desired, unnecessarily hurrying the projects would not be in the interest of anyone, including people of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh or the rest of India.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com),
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/
Post Script On March 22, 2017 Deccan Herald reported, following two days (March 20-21) meeting:
- India has withdrawn the design of the Miyar HEP, following Pakistan objections, India would get back to Pakistan with fresh design of the project.
- Discussions were held on Pakistan’s prior objections relating to pondage and freeboard of Lower Kalnai and freeboard and spillway of Pakal Dul hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir. India. Indian side has agreed to reconsider Pakistan’s observations on these projects and will respond in the next meeting of the Commission.
- Pakistani side demanded from India to provide the outflows from Baglihar and Salal dams on the Chenab river during the flood season to help in issuing of early flood warnings. Indian side has agreed to consider Pakistan’s request and it is expected that India would start providing the required data starting from the coming flood season.
- Indian side also agreed to a tour of inspection for Pakistan’s Indus Commission which is expected to be arranged before August 2017.
The Nation of Pakistan reported on March 22, 2017:
- The project has been under discussion between the two states since 108th PIC meeting.
- Pakistan had raised objection on the freeboard of the (Miyar) project as it wanted it to be 1m, and India had agreed to this demand in 111th Meeting of the PIC.
- On the pondage, Pakistan has estimated pondage of the project at 0.28 million m3. According the Pakistan stand the subsequent DSL (Dead Storage Level) is at 2842.91 Masl which is 5.68m higher than India’s DSL i.e. 2837.23 masl.
- Besides this, Pakistan has proposed a surface gated free-overflow spillway design. In addition, Pakistan has also highlighted an anomaly in India’s spillway design that it can pass the design flood of 832 m3/S with water level 4m below the DSL.
- On intake of the project, Pakistan has proposed to adopt a surface intake instead of submerged intake. Surface intake is more treaty compliant and preferable to prevent the coarse sediment ingress into the power tunnel, the official said.
The News of Pakistan reported on March 22, 2017:
- The Miyar Hydropower plant is located on Miyar Nallah — a right bank tributary of Chenab River.It joins the Chenab 106km and 253km upstream of 300MW Dulhasti hydropower project and the Working Boundary respectively. It is the run-of-the river project with a barrage type structure and design height of 27 meters above bed stream. The design of the Miyar project was received by Pakistan from India on May 2009. Pakistan carried out a detailed review of the design following the guidelines mentioned in the treaty and communicated its objections to India on August 7.
- Pakistan had objected to the placement of spillway, magnitude of pondage, intake and freeboard and wanted the Miyar project to have pondage of 0.28 Mm3 against the 1.88 Mm3 of pondage.
- Coming to the Pakal Dul hydropower project, the official said Pakistan would inspect the said project which was being constructed on the Marusadar River — a major right bank tributary of the Chena River in the Indian held Kashmir.
- It confluences with Chenab about 225 kms upstream of Marala Barrage and 76 km of Baglihar Dam. It is concrete faced rock fill dam with the height of 167 meters.The said project will be having a storage of 88,000 acre feet which will be filled every year during the flood time (June 21 to August 31). The reservoir will store water every year and release it in the winter season.
- Pakistan says the tunnel spillway should be raised closer to the DSL level and the raising would not reduce its discharge capacity.Islamabad, during the talks, also argued that the placement of tunnel spillway 40 meters below the DSL enables drawdown flushing, which was not permitted to India under the treaty.
- Pakistan also raised its concern saying that there should be a mechanism of data exchange to ensure that the reservoir was being filled as per paragraph 18(C) of Annexure E when the discharge above Marala is less than 55,000 cubic feet per second from June 21 to 31 August.
- Talking about the 48MW Lower Kalnai, the official said the project was being constructed by India on the Lower Kalnai River, which was also a left bank tributary of the Chenab River.It joins Chenab about 19 km downstream of Dulhasti hydropower project and 180 km upstream of the Working Boundary.
- Pakistan has raised its objections to freeboard, pondage, spillway and intake, saying it would rather inspect the project during visit to India.
The ECONOMIC TIMES on 230317 published a retraction:
- India today dismissed reports in Pakistani media that it has agreed to halt work on Miyar hydroelectric project at the neighbouring country’s request and termed them as “factually incorrect”.
- “Media reports on India agreeing to halt Miyar project at Pakistan‘s request are factually incorrect. India never agreed to halt the project(sic),” The High Commission of India in Islamabad tweeted late last night after the meeting of Permanent Indus Commission in the Pakistani capital.
- Rubbishing the reports, government sources said there is “not even an iota of change” in India’s position in connection with the 120 MW-capacity Miyar project, located in Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul Spiti district.
- They said India has also not agreed to review design of Lower Kalnai hydropower project (48 MW), being built in Jammu and Kashmir, as reported by the media in the neighbouring country.
- “What has appeared in Pakistani media is distortion. India’s position on the projects remains the same as it was before going to the meeting,” a top official said.
[i] Earlier SANDRP blogs on Indus treaty: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/so-who-will-suffer-in-the-indus-water-imbroglio/,
[iii] 111th meeting happened in Jan-Feb 2015 and 112th in May 2015.
[v] SANDRP letter on this project, endorsed by a number of academics from Kashmir, can be seen here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/open-letter-to-jkspcb-cancel-public-hearings-for-sawalkote-hep-for-violations/
[ix] https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/193124-Pakistan-keen-to-set-up-climate-change-monitoring-system-for-Indus-rivers, http://www.radio.gov.pk/20-Mar-2017/secretary-level-talks-on-ratle-hyderoelectric-plant-to-begin-on-12th-may-khawaja-asif, https://www.dawn.com/news/1321807/high-level-water-talks-with-india-from-next-month
[xii] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/international-court-asks-india-to-release-more-water-and-rejects-plea-to-re-interpret-february-verdict-on-kishanganga/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/hague-court-gives-one-all-verdict-in-kishenganga-dispute-between-india-and-pakistan/