Not interested in keeping issues lingering

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The four-day 105th Permanent Indus Commission meeting between India and Pakistan ended in New Delhi on a positive note, with Pakistan consenting to construction of two power projects, the 250-MW Uri-II on river Jhelum and 44 MW Chutak on river Suru, a tributary of Indus in Kargil district. Kashmir Life talks to Pakistan Indus Commissioner Syed Jammat Ali Shah. Excerpts:
KL: Shah Sahib, it is for the first time we see you smiling at the end of a meeting with your Indian counterparts. Is there something to celebrate?
Syed Jamaat Ali Shah: We have cleared two projects Uri-II and Chutak. India can go ahead with their construction. We consented to it after India provided details and changed design of these projects in the spirit of cooperation and goodwill. We are not interested to keep issues lingering on. When we received proper details and information, we cleared them (projects). But let me make it clear that we did not withdraw objections as media has been portraying. India addressed these objections. We examined details on merit after India presented further details and technical information on the design.

KL: What other issues cropped up during the meeting?
Shah: We had six to seven items on agenda.  We finalized schedule and chalked out details of inspection visits in the current year.  A mechanism to receive advance information on floods during monsoon, beginning July 1, was also established. We also agreed on modalities to exchange advance information on floods and river water flow. We need this information from India to activate our flood information system to save property and lives back in Pakistan. Following 1988 ‘super’ floods in Pakistan, both countries in an agreement in 1989 set up an elaborate arrangement of exchanging flood information beyond Indus Water Treaty. We think this cooperation is working very well. But that has to be renewed every year as user agencies need additional information.

KL: What were your objections that India addressed?
SHAH: India agreed to adjust design of both the projects to Pakistan’s satisfaction. They agreed to give an opening in the parapet wall. Our concern was that water levels or storage could increase if parapet walls remained solid, water level of storage can increase. This concern has been addressed.
Uri-II is a run of the river plant with full pondage level and dead-storage levels almost equal. As per new design, they have submitted, there is no pondage storage. So there is no downstream effect. But the gates they set up give them a sort of control. We expect them not to use these gates to harm us. We seek reciprocity from India to make commission effective in deliverance and performance.

KL: But in the spirit of cooperation, why you did not clear Nimmo Bazgo project?
Shah: Yes, there were differences on the 45-MW Nimmo Bazgo (project) coming up on Indus in Ladakh for want of further information. India has agreed to provide requisite information within a week. On this project as well, let me tell you, which media did not report, we dropped our objections on parapet wall and free board as they were almost copies of Uri-II and Chutak projects. But our objections on gate structures and power intake were not addressed fully.
I wonder, why India could not provide sediment data as it forms basis of the project design. They have now assured to provide this data in a week, after consulting at higher levels. The sediment data decides the level of spill way, besides intake level and spill way size.
Free flow of information and transparency is necessary to keep up the tempo of cooperation. Mostly things get hanged at the Commission level just for want of proper information. We are in no way an impediment in the way of developing projects in Kashmir and elsewhere. India has rights as well as obligations and we try to draw their attention to it.

KL: In the past despite World Bank approving the Baglihar project, you raised ante, when the project was commissioned. Are there any lessons to be learnt?
Shah: Yes, we did raise hue and cry, when water levels at Marala dipped down dangerously possibly due to initial filling of the Baglihar dam. We have decided to take care in future while filling the dams at the time of commissioning. India told us they will form a schedule in advance so that Baglihar type incident does not recur.

KL: You have been also charging India of stealing water…
Shah:  No, no, never. Our government never charged India of stealing water. Having said that, let us also see India’s record of abiding the provisions of Indus Water Treaty. It has never remained straight. We have never levelled such a charge. But when we see the record of the implementation of the treaty, it is abysmal. In August 2008 there was huge reduction in the level of water in Chinab. Construction on Wullar Barrage was also a deviation. And since 2007, they were not providing information on Chutak project.  Pakistan wants implementation of IWT in letter and spirit to restore confidence of Commission and create an atmosphere of trust.

KL: What is your position, and status of talks over Kishanganga with your Indian counterparts?
Shah: Kishanganga is not now under the purview of the Indus Commission. So we did not discuss it. It is now in the purview of the governments. Our government has already approached the World Bank for arbitration. We have sent a note verbale to India and notified to seek court of arbitration. We have already sent names of two arbitrators.
India is still to reply to the notification. India has to announce names of its arbitrators. They are still to respond. We don’t know what they are up to. Whether they want to settle the issue out of the court of arbitration or are (they) just buying time.

KL: In Kashmir, politicians are raising pitch against IWT. They are asking for compensation, believing the treaty has deprived the state of development?
Shah: Again, I shall tell you I will not comment or react on the statements of politicians. But tell me has Kashmir utilised and harnessed the existing allocated quantum of waters for over past 40 years? The treaty provides water for agricultural usages for 13 lakh acres of land. Out of which just 8 lakh acres has been harnessed. Still they can use water to harness further 5 lakh acres of land, if there is any left without irrigation.
Further India can build storages to hold 1.1 billion acre feet of water on river Chinab and 0.7 million acre feet on the tributaries of river Jhelum. They are still to build these storages. Only condition is they have to come up with a proper and stipulated design. Also there is no restriction on either domestic or industrial uses. They can build as many run or river power projects as they want. But, I have a point that mostly engineers try to replicate power projects of plains without using creativity and try to execute them in Kashmir. It is just a matter of hard work and creative skills to build mega power projects on run-of-river stream and also to study the IWT before designing the projects.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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