No objections

The water disputes between India and Pakistan are becoming more frequent and fierce leading the two nations to international courts. The proposed artificial lake on Tawi banks at Jammu, however, seems to be on track with Pakistani officials not filing any objections after the visit to the site. A Kashmir Life report.

Notwithstanding the massive floods that ravaged parts of Pakistan last summer, Islamabad cannot afford to skip seeing what J&K is doing to its water bodies. So when the reports about J&K government setting up an artificial lake over Tawi banks in Jammu appeared in the media, Pakistan’s Permanent Indus Commission decided to visit J&K. They had an inspection of the site last week.

But the visit did not trigger any controversy because officials believed the visit would neutralize the chances of any crisis in coming days. “Normally, the Pakistan Commission would take around six months to approve the design (of the lake) but since they flew in and visited the spot, it should (now) take less time,” one senior official, who wants to remain anonymous said.

Led by Siraj Jameel Memon, the three-member delegation, which included Imran Afzal Cheema and Faisal Qazi, accompanied their host G Rangarajan – Memon’s Indian counterpart. It was the first visit of Pakistani Commission after the ouster of its former vocal commissioner Jamat Ali Shah late last year. They had a long visit of the site last week before driving to certain canals and NHPC owned Salal Power Project. “Provide us the drawings of the project clarifying that it is within the parameters of the Indus Water Treaty and there is no violation of the norms,” Memon told hosts. “It is imperative to arrive at a conclusion.”

G Rangarajan asserted that the proposed lake (tentatively called Tawishi) strictly adheres to the treaty norms and (even after the visit) Islamabad skipped raising any objection. The visit, he alleged, was the outcome of some “freak media report” that the project was a violation of the 1960’s water sharing treaty between India and Pakistan.

The artificial lake project with the twin objectives of adding to the beauty of the temple city and augmenting the irrigation in the Jammu periphery especially R S Pura, Bishnah and Suchetgarh was conceived much earlier. It was taken up for implementation only last year.

A Rs 110 crore project to be completed within two years, the lake would get ninety percent of its funds from the central government. The 1500 by 600 meters lake with an average height of four meters, would offer instant tourist activities besides storage of water for irrigation. The government plans a number of hotels on its banks besides introducing certain tourist-specific activities which includes setting up of two parks on 150 and 27 kanals of land respectively and an amusement park. The lake will help government create 11000 kanals of additional land of high commercial value. Hyderabad based M/s GVR Infrastructure Projects Limited has already bagged the Rs 70 crore contract for design and construction of the barrage.

Irrigation and Flood Control Minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din believes the barrage does not violate the provisions of water sharing Indus water Treaty and will help state in irrigating additional 8000 acres of agriculture land. The government hopes it will lift 700 cusecs of additional water from the lake through Ranbir Canal for this purpose.
“The (Indus Water) Treaty allows us to go for the water storage up to the limit of 0.50 Million Acre Feet of water,” Taj said. “For this Tawi pondage, we will be using merely 0.10 MAF of water and that is within our rights under the agreement.” The government has already submitted the design to the Central Water Commission envisaging length of the barrage at 373 meters – 133 meter on Badi Tawi and 240 meter on Nikki Tawi. It will have a total of 34 mechanically operated gates – 21 on one side and 13 on another side.

The lake will eventually be connected to 60-km long Ranbir Canal(set up in 1905), one of the two main irrigation canals in Jammu – that manage water distribution in and around Jammu besides Tawi and Ravi canals. Headwork of these canals were recently repaired at a cost of Rs 42 crore to add to their capacities. Already 700 cusecs of additional water has been diverted to the Ranbir Canal. “We are ready to brief the visiting team about everything that concerns the lake,” a senior official said.

Given the fact that Kashmir is the fountainhead of Pakistan’s water resources and the level in all the rivers is nose-diving with every passing year, water is emerging a ticklish issue for Islamabad. Already, a section of jihadi elements are adding water as one of the reasons for waging war against India.

Prior to 1990 when there was no militancy, Islamabad has never ever closed its eyes towards the happenings on the riverbanks of Kashmir. Its first battle was over the Tulbul Navigation Lock (Wullar Barrage). After significant investments were made by New Delhi, Islamabad managed to force a closure of the project. The rise of militancy coincided with the strong objections by Pakistan and in early 1990’s tons of iron was stolen from the barrage site. Though meek voices in J&K’s political circles are routinely talking about reviving the project, there seems no interest at the government’s policy making level.

The 450-MW Baglihar power project, that incidentally is the energy-starved state’s flagship initiative, proved a protracted battle between India and Pakistan. After maintaining for years that the project violates the provisions of water sharing treaty Islamabad finally petitioned the World Bank – that had brokered the 1960s treaty between the two countries – which appointed a Neutral Expert. The Swiss expert Professor Raymond Lafitte’s report came in February 2007. It was a win-win for both sides as of the six determinations three each were favouring India and Pakistan.

Now the two countries are busy fighting over the 330-MW Kishanganga Project. After a series of talks failed, Islamabad termed it a “dispute” and went to the International Court of Arbitration. While both the sides have made their preparations, hints were recently dropped by New Delhi that an out of court settlement may become possible. It was in the midst of these reports that Artificial Lake invited Islamabad to Jammu.

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