After a long hiatus, parleys about Indus waters between Pakistan and India have resumed and the officials of the Pakistan’s Commission on Indus Waters have gone to New Delhi. Pakistani delegation will participate in a two-day meeting of the Permanent Commission on Indus Waters to discuss many issues related to the distribution of Indus waters. In this context it is often mentioned that both Pakistan and India badly lack the kind of water diplomacy that is aimed at resolving an existential issue like water distribution. It is widely acknowledged that Pakistan Commission for Indus Waters is manned by low-level officials and for this reason scant attention is paid to it by its Indian counterpart. The result is that the water authorities of both the countries usually talk at each other instead of talking to each other and the apathy reigning in these matters is appalling.
No one pays much attention to the fact that in the last 70 years, Indus water flows have changed dramatically. More than 75 per cent water of the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej now flow to other states instead of Indian Punjab resulting in accelerated groundwater depletion and ecosystem degradation. The diversions to non-basin riparians have resulted in self-inflicting reliance on groundwater. Heavy subsidies by the Indian government have played havoc with the ecosystem. Of 142 blocks (subdivisions), 110 are overexploiting water, particularly in central Punjab which is India’s food basket.
The current situation is that the Pakistani side blames the delay in regular parleys is India’s unilateral decision to change the special status of occupied Kashmir. However the resumption of parleys appear to be the direct consequence of recent statements by Prime Minister and Army Chief reiterating Pakistan’s position in relationship with India and called for resolution of the disputes through dialogues. Both the Pakistani leaders have nonetheless asked India to take the first step by agreeing to resolve the Kashmir issue according to the wishes of its people.
Anyway the talks are scheduled for two days in which Pakistani delegation will be led by Indus Commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah and Indian side will be represented by his counterpart P.K. Saxena. Pakistani delegation is comprised of officials of the Indus Water Commission, Water and Power Development Authority, Attorney General Office, Meteorology, Irrigation and other departments concerned with water issues. The Pakistani side has mentioned that it will discuss Pakistan’s objections to the design of 1,000MW Pakal Dul and 48MW Lower Kalnai hydroelectric plants (HEP), supply of information/data of the new projects by India on western rivers, flood data arrangements for the forthcoming flood season, programmes of meetings and tours of the commission, two recent new run-of-river hydroelectric plants — 19MW Durbuk and 24MW Nimu-Chilling — and any other issue with the mutual consent of both the commissioners.
It was pointed out that under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), at least one meeting of the Permanent Commission on Indus Waters should be held each year alternately in India and Pakistan but this protocol is not adhered to. It may be recollected that in last meeting held in Lahore in August 2018, Pakistan had urged India to entertain the objections it had raised over the construction of Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower projects on Chenab. It conveyed in categorical terms to the visiting Indian team that Islamabad would approach the international forums defined in the IWT in case New Delhi failed to accept the requests as narrated in the detailed objections. Pakistan also made it clear that it would have no option but to use international forums — appointment of neutral experts, taking the case to international court of arbitration, etc — in case India failed to address its concerns that were absolutely genuine and could be resolved amicably.
Moreover, Pakistani authorities had also asked the Indians to reduce the height of Pakal Dul’s reservoir up to five metres, maintain 40-metre height above sea level while making spillways’ gates of this project, besides clarifying the pattern and mechanism for the water storage and releases. Similarly, Pakistan raised some technical concerns over the design of the Lower Kalnai hydropower project, requesting India to address them at the earliest. It was then reported that India agreed to get the sites of Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai projects inspected by Pakistani experts. It also assured Pakistan of taking up its objections/concerns over the two projects seriously by resolving them amicably in the light of technical memorandums to be prepared and exchanged by the two countries in the next meeting to be held in New Delhi. Later in February 2019, Pakistani experts headed by the Commissioner on Indus Waters had inspected four hydropower projects at Chenab basin in India, including Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai, 850MW Ratlay and 900MW Baglihar dams. The construction work on Pakal Dul dam, which was earlier stopped, had resumed at that time. TW