WB’s Inaction Over Water Disputes Damaging Pakistan

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India has geared up its construction activities on the 850MW Ratle Hydropower project and made 330MW Kishenganaga project operational on Pakistan rivers with objectionable designs during the last five-year time after the World Bank stopped on December 12, 2016 separate processes initiated by India and Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty to allow the two countries to consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements on both the said projects.

It was Pakistan which moved the World Bank first, seeking the constitution of the court of arbitration to resolve the fate of the Kishenganga Hydropower project, which is operational on the Jehlum River and 850MW Ratle hydropower project being built on Chenab River. However, India later on asked the World Bank to appoint neutral experts to allay the concerns of Pakistan on the designs of both the projects. But the top management of the World Bank, according to its website, took pause on December 12, 2016 and halted the process to move for the mechanism to resolve the objections raised by Pakistan to save the Indus Waters Treaty between the two nuclear countries, which it had brokered in 1960.

The World Bank says that it had halted the appointment of chairman of the Court of Arbitration as requested by Pakistan and a neutral expert as requested by India to resolve issues regarding two hydroelectric power plants under construction by India along the Indus rivers system. The bank says that both processes initiated by Pakistan and India at the same time create a risk of contradictory outcomes that could potentially endanger the Treaty.

However, the top sources both in the water resources ministry and Pakistan Commission of Indus Water told The News that India, while taking advantage of the pause taken by the World Bank in December 2016, has not only made its Kishenganaga project operational but also advanced its progress on 850MW Ratle Hydropower project. So much so, India has submitted to the United Nations its final design of the Ratle project without allaying the concerns of Pakistan for qualifying the carbon credits.

India had erected the Kishenganga project with objectionable design in 2017, one year after the pause taken by the World Bank and now it is advancing its construction activities on the site of the Ratle Hydropower project again with a design which does not conform with provisions of waters treaty as per the objection raised by Pakistan. Pakistan had written a letter to the World Bank on April 3, 2018, saying that the pause taken by the Bank has provided time for the Indian side to erect the Kishenganga project.

And in case the Ratle project is completed in the presence of the ongoing pause taken by the World Bank, Pakistan would have to brave 40 percent loss in water flows that are destined to reach Sialkot Headmarala. This means the huge loss to irrigation of various crops in Punjab, which is the food basket of the country. Ratle project once completed will directly damage the food basket of the country.

When contacted, Syed Mehr Ali Shah, joint secretary in Water Resources Ministry and also acting Pakistan’s Commissioner of Indus Waters. said that he is in touch with the World Bank and in the latest communication Pakistan had asked the World Bank to break the pause and constitute the court of arbitration as India may take the advantage of the pause. He said that the World Bank has also promised to mediate between the two countries, but no progress was made in this regard. “We are optimistic that the World Bank will come up with a positive mind on the issue in response to the latest communication from Pakistan.”

He claimed that Pakistan was the first country to move the World Bank asking for the constitution of the court of arbitration and India later on asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert. He said the World Bank needs to interpret that when one party approaches WB for a forum of either neutral expert or court of arbitration, the Bank should listen to that party first. Under the dispute resolution enshrined in the Indus Waters Treaty, the World Bank has the role as it is also the party to the dispute between Pakistan and India. Pakistan had called for resolution of disputes over the Kishenganga project on the Neelum River and 850 MW Ratle Hydropower project on the Chenab.

Pakistan believes that Kishenganga’s poundage should be a maximum of one million cubic meters instead of 7.5 million cubic meters, intake should be up to four meters and spillways should be raised to nine meters.

About the Rattle project, Pakistan had four objections. Freeboard should be one meter instead of two meters, poundage should be a maximum of eight million cubic meters instead of 24 million, intake level should be at 8.8 meters and spillways at the height of 20 meters.

Arshad H Abbasi, associated with SDPI who has worked a lot on transboundary water issues with India under Track-II Policy in his comments, said that Pakistan’s Commission of Indus waters has never raised the genuine issues about the Ratle Hydropower project arguing it didn’t raise the issues of seismic vulnerability and structure stability of the project.

However, it has also failed to persuade the World Bank to break the pause which is still continuing and is paving way to complete the project with objectionable design. He also claimed that the Pakistan Commission of Indus water is not current and updated about the pace of the construction work on the Ratle project.

Engr M A Jabbar, who also keeps an eye on water related issues with India, said the government lacks knowledge based professionals for giving correct technical input to its negotiators and lawyers to fight its case both at bilateral level at PCIW (Permanent Commission of Indus Waters) level and international forums.

As far as Ratle project is concerned, top sources said, India has so far completed significant civil works, including two diversion tunnels, including upstream bridge, upstream and downstream roads and will soon start construction work on the dam portion having height of almost 134 meters. The Indian authorities want to take advantage of the pause taken by the World Bank and will soon initiate the construction work on the pressure shaft and power house as well.

The Ratle project, located in the Kishtwar district of J&K state, essentially lies in the central crystalline sequences of the Higher Himalaya. This area has been subjected to intense tectonic deformation and has experienced seismic activity.

The project is around 215 kms from Jammu. The nearest operational airport is at Jammu and nearest Railhead is Udhampur about 155 kms from the project site. The left bank of the dam site is connected with a foot track from Jammu-Kishtwar motor road near Drabshala.

The motor road is along the left bank of the river. Approximate distances between project components and aerial distance from Head Marala is 129 kms.

However, in case of failure, the Ratle Dam having a gross reservoir capacity of 18,646 Acre Feet, and a live storage capacity of 8,107 Acre-feet, but its height is 191 feet may have significant impact on Pakistan. It is located upstream of dams under construction such as Baglihar and Sawalkot, while the Salal Hydropower project is under operation.

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