Hydropower projects, Fazilka drain discussed during India-Pak Indus Commissioners’ meet

Technical discussion regarding ongoing hydropower projects, including Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai and Kiru, and the free flow of Fazilka drain into Sutlej river, were among the topics discussed during the 117th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission held from March 1-3 in Islamabad.

The meeting as per the Indus Water Treaty, 1960, is held alternately in India and Pakistan and attended by teams from both the countries led by the respective Indus Commissioners.

The Indian delegation led by the Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters, P.K. Saxena, returned late Friday evening.

Pakistan had raised certain objections and made specific suggestions on the issue of the hydropower projects — Pakal Dul (1,000 MW), Lower Kalnai (48 MW) and Kiru (624 MW)– in the Chenab basin of Jammu and Kashmir and had claimed insufficient information for few small hydroelectric projects in Ladakh.

On Pakal Dul, Pakistan made certain suggestions which the Indian side assured to examine and discuss in the next meeting.

On Lower Kalnai, both India and Pakistan said there is no ongoing construction after the 2014 floods. Both sides agreed that it would not be fruitful to continue the discussion at this stage and it may be taken up at an appropriate stage.

For small hydropower projects in Ladakh, the Pakistan side held that the information supplied by India on these projects is deficient. Some of these projects are under 10 MW and hundreds of kilometres inside the Indian territory.

The Indian side felt that the information supplied earlier and in the meeting was sufficient. However, India agreed to arrange the information as requested by Pakistan to the extent they are available, Saxena said.

It was agreed to continue with the discussion on the observations already raised by Pakistan in the next meeting.

On the Kiru project, both sides exchanged their positions. However, rejecting Pakistan’s arguments, “India asserted that its design is fully compliant with the Indus Water Treaty”, said the Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters.

The Indian side said it is open to discussions and suggestions and can consider examining any practical suggestion within the realm of the position on the ground and without compromising on India’s rights as provided under the treaty.

In response to Pakistan’s claims on the flood data, the Indian side conveyed that as a responsible upper riparian, India has been providing information on extraordinary discharge of water from reservoirs and flood flows every year as mandated under the treaty.

“India continues to meet all its obligations under the treaty, however, if Pakistan requests to provide information beyond the treaty’s provisions, India may examine the same as a gesture of goodwill,” a government official said.

A very unlikely topic of discussion this time was the need for free-flowing Fazilka drain in Punjab that flows into Sutlej in Pakistan. The drain has been maintained by Pakistan and recently there were some issues regarding the backflow.

“Pakistan side assured that the drain is being fairly maintained on its side and if India may still feel that certain measures are required to be undertaken by Pakistan in this regard, the latter would be willing to consider any such suggestion by India,” said an official, adding: “Pakistan also offered a tour of the Indian side to verify the facts on ground.”

Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, India and Pakistan share water of six rivers in the Indus basin. Of these, India has complete rights over three eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, while Pakistan has rights over the western rivers — Chenab, Jhelum and Indus.

India can, however, build only run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers. Pakistan gets nearly 80 per cent share of the Indus basin water (nearly 135 million acre-feet) against India’s 33 million acre-feet.

After the meeting, an MEA statement said: “Both the Commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to interact more frequently in an attempt to resolve issues through bilateral discussions under the treaty. It was agreed to hold the next meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in New Delhi on mutually convenient dates.”

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