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Baglihar Dam Dispute

The Project Benefit for India

The project is divided into two phases and each phase is designed to produce 450 MW power. The first phase is likely to be completed within 2005. However, construction of 450 MW Baglihar Project was signed on 11th March, 1999 with Jaiprakash Industries Ltd., the biggest Indian hydropower construction company, and two other companies, Siemens and Hydro Vevey Ltd. Total cost of the projet is Indian Rs.38b and the Indian government is providing massive assistance to the state government in completing the project.
The Project envisages the construction of a 308 meters high dam on River Chenab near the place known as Baglihar with storage of 321,000 Acre Feet of which 291,000 acre ft. is dead storage capacity. Live storage, also termed as Pondage (Operational Pool), is 30400 acre ft. This Pondage is required to supplement the discharge during low flow period. This is what Pakistan is opposing.

Nature of Disputed

What is the dispute over the Baglihar dam and what are Pakistan’s contentions? Lets discuss it in detail.
Under the lndus water treaty 1960, both countries were prohibited from undertaking any “man made” obstruction ic cause change in the volume of the daily flow of waters. However, in violation of this specific provision in the treaty, which has had a binding force upon it, according to Baglihar Hydropower Project (BHP), Indian plans to go ahead with the Baglihar Hydropower Project on the Chenab River in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J& K) This proposal has evoked opposition from Pakistan which claims that the project will broke World Bank-lndus Waters Treaty (IWT) of 1960. According to which. India cannot use/ store and construct any dam for water storage on Pakistan western rivers without the consent of Pakistan government.
It is pertinent to mention here that En those rivers which do not run through the land of one and the same state, as is the case with the six rivers allocated to Pakistan and India, the flow of water cannot be regulated arbitrarily by one of the riparian states. For it is a provision of international law, that no state is allowed to alter the natural conditions of its own territory to the disadvantage of the natural conditions of the territory of a neighboring state. For this reason, a state is forbidden to stop or divert the flow of a river which runs from its own territory to a neighboring state.

Pakistan Perspective

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the dispute arose because India started construction work on the Baglihar dam project without informing Islamabad, which is a violation of the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960, under which Pakistan has exclusive rights over the waters of the western rivers - Jhelurn, Chenab and Indus while the eastern rivers - Ravi, Beas and Sutlej belong to India.

The BHP would deprive Pakistan of 26 to 28 per cent water in winter season thereby affecting Pakistan’s irrigation water requirements especially during the Rabi crop season, However, despite Pakistan’s opposition, the Indian government is going ahead with work on the dam side. Pakistan perspective is that, with Baglihar dam, Pakistan could loose 7,000 to 8,000 cusecs of water per day due to this gated structure and therefore, Pakistani Technical officials are strongly against the gated structure of this dam. Moreover, India can use water as a weapon against Pakistan, the design of the hydropower project violates the terms of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. The structure will provide India the capability to manipulate the flow of water to Pakistan’s disadvantage. Complete stoppage for a continuous period of 27/28 days during December, January and February would adversely affect agriculture and other requirements at Marala head works, Pakistan contends that the BHP would lead to a reduction in the downstream flow of water in the Indus as River Chenab is one of the important water source for Indus. Pakistan is also of the opinion that the BHP would increase India’s storage capacity (in J & K) to 1,64,000 acre feet which is much higher than that allowed under the IWT .
The Pakistan demands compensation to be paid by India to Pakistan towards the latter’s losses incurred during the construction of water drawing projects on the western rivers in lieu of water supplies for irrigation canals in Pakistan which were dependent on the water flow from the eastern rivers. The IWT allowed Pakistan to construct a system of replacement canals to carry water from the western rivers into those areas in West Pakistan that were earlier dependent for their irrigation supplies on water from the eastern rivers. The Indian contention in this regard is that since India has already paid its contribution of 62,060,000 pounds to the World Bank towards compensation to Pakistan.

Bilateral Negotiations

It is, however, amazing that all these many years India continued to construct the controversial dam, in violation of the treaty and the international law, while Pakistan watched helplessly and invoked the treaty provision concerning the appointment of a neutral expert when the dam is nearing completion. The ineptitude of the concerned officials, while handling a matter of such national importance and magnitude, is untenable. In June 2003, when the Pakistan commissioner for lndus Water informed the government that the lndus Water commissioners of the two countries had not been able to resolve the issue, it should have acted immediately and asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert, as recommended by the commissioner. Instead, the government accepted India’s request for bilateral meetings which was obviously aimed at engaging Pakistan in a lengthy and fruitless dialogue process. A number of bilateral meetings that took place between Pakistan and India without any tangible outcome confirms this assertion. Clearly, the BHP has become the bone of contention between the two countries because it is totally against Indus water treaty Therefore, India has to change the design of Baglihar dam if it wants to solve the water issue between the two countries. India continues to maintain that it favors a bilateral solution in terms of the treaty, but has been dragging its feet on Pakistan’s objections and proposals.
India is now stated to be ready to share a part of the 450 MW of power it would produce from Baglihar dam with Pakistan. Pakistan does not agree to any change in the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. But India is reported to have said it could go ahead unilaterally with its power project although the Treaty does not provide for that. There are reports from India that it might scrap the treaty altogether. There is no progress in the talks on Wullar Barrage, Kishanganga dam and Baglihar Project as well, which India wants to use for navigation.
Evidently India wants to put the water of the three rivers to other uses than irrigation as provided in the Indus Water Treaty, while Pakistan wants to abide by the treaty faithfully. The gap between the two is very wide. And that could be bridged only through talks at the political level at the top and not by technicians. India’s attitude on the Baglihar Dam has become a source of anxiety, since New Delhi has shown little inclination to accommodate Pakistan’s legitimate concerns. It could have at least halted the construction on the basis of a design to which Pakistan has objected. Other CBMs can lose credibility if India acts unreasonably on the vital issue of sharing of Indus waters.

Indeed, with Wullar barrage on the Jhelum already on the agenda of the dialogue, and the Kishenganga project being mooted on the Indus, India appears to be preparing to put pressure on Pakistan on the very sensitive issue of sharing of waters. There is already a problem over the availability of adequate water for irrigation in Pakistan, and if India begins to tamper with supplies from the rivers awarded to it, the atmosphere of relations would deteriorate rapidly.

The Indian side did not show any flexibility and refused to stop work on the project even after the issue was raised at the highest level. The final meeting that took place between the water secretaries of the two countries, in New Delhi, in the first week of January, also ended without any result. Apparently, the Indian strategy is to delay the resolution of the problem and then present the dam to Pakistan and the world at large as fait accompli. Still, Baglihar dispute is not a part of the composite dialogue process between two countries. A drastic reduction of water supply to Pakistan, as a result of the construction of the Baglihar dam, with its present design, will not only erode the credibility of the treaty and defeat its very purpose but could also adversely affect relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. It is, therefore, imperative that the controversy over the construction of the Baglihar dam is amicably resolved, even at this belated stage, in a spirit of goodwill and mutual understanding. In any case, the issue should not be allowed to become another major irritant in relations between the two states. Indo-Pakistan amity is of overriding importance and hence must be promoted and preserved at all costs. However, a greater effort in this regard is called for on the part of India, for obvious reasons.

However, it should be kept in mind that thus far, however, India has failed to respond to Pakistan’s questions and requests in terms of the Indus Basin Treaty. Recalling earlier threats by India to abrogate the treaty, Pakistan has to plan its strategy, and future relations in a manner that protects our legal rights with regard to the waters of the Indus system, which were not fully safeguarded even by the Indus Basin Treaty. In short, the issues between the two neighbors are not only complex but they also carry with them a heavy burden of history. They can only be tackled by creative and bold diplomatic initiatives which necessarily imply taking of calculated risks. After failure of talks on January 18, 2005 Pakistan raised six objections to the World Bank, a broker arid signatory of lndus Water Treaty. In April 2005 the World Bank determined Pakistani claim as a Difference’, a classification between less serious ‘Question’ and more serious Dispute’, and in May 2005 appointed Professor Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss civil engineer, to adjudicate the difference.

Lafitte declared his final verdict on February 12, 2007, in which he partially upheld some objections of Pakistan declaring that pondage capacity be reduced by 13.5%, height of a structure be reduced by 1.5 meter and power intake tunnels be raised by 3 meters, thereby limiting some flow control capabilities of earlier design. However he rejected Pakistani objections on height and gated control of spillway declaring these were conforming engineering norms of the day.

Both parties (India and Pakistan) have already agreed that they will abide by the final verdict. Designed to generate 450 MW of hydel power. The final report of the World Bank appointed neutral expert has been submitted at Berne, Switzerland. The report acknowledged India’s right to construct ‘gated spillways’ under Indus water treaty 1960.The report allowed pondage of 32.58 MCM as against India’s demand for 37.5 MCM. The report also recommended to reduce the height of freeboard from 4.5 m to 3.0 m.

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