Water discord

the talks between India and Pakistan on the Baglihar hydel power project on the Chenab River at Ramban in Jammu and Kashmir (j&k) have failed. The two neighbours held discussions on the 450-megawatt project on January 4-7, 2004. The deadlock appeared with India suggesting continuation of discussions on the project's technical issues for a week but Pakistan demanding an immediate halt on construction at the project site as a pre-condition for doing so. Pakistan finally hinted that it will now take the matter before "neutral experts'.

Pakistan insists that the project violates the 1960 Indus water treaty and wants changes in its blueprint. It claims that it will affect its daily water supply of 7,000 cusecs. The country is currently facing a severe drought (see box: Sindh parched). Under the treaty, which was guaranteed by the World Bank, New Delhi gave up its claim to use the water of three rivers, Jhelum, Chenab and Indus (all flowing from j&k ), in lieu of the claim over the waters of Satluj, Beas and Ravi rivers. The treaty prevents j&k from storing the water of the three rivers, which is necessary for power projects and irrigation purposes.

India maintains that the Baglihar project is perfectly within the provisions of the treaty. Before work on the project began, the Indian side of the Permanent Indus Commission had taken approval from its Pakistani counterpart. Objections were raised by Pakistan much later. The two nations decided to hold talks on the issue following Pakistan's threat to seek arbitration by the World Bank if the issue wasn't resolved till December 31, 2003.

Meanwhile, the j&k government raised its own demand, asking the Union government to keep the state's interest in mind during the talks. "We have suffered huge losses due to the treaty. The Centre should take the state's interests into consideration,' said j&k minister for irrigation and public health engineering Qazi Mohammed Afzal. Figures presented in the state assembly suggest that the state suffers a loss of Rs 6,500 crore annually due to the treaty.

Following the failure of the talks, the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri separatist leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami and chairperson of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (aphc), Syed Ali Shah Geelani, spoke to Down To Earth regarding Kashmiri interests standing against those of Pakistan in the matter. "The biggest issue is political. Economic issues like the Baglihar dam are secondary. If the political issue is resolved in favour of the Kashmiri people, the dam issue with Pakistan will get solved on its own,' he said in New Delhi, where he is undergoing medical treatment.

Former aphc chairman and senior executive committee member Molvi Mohammed Abbaas Ansari said j&k faces acute energy crisis in winter and water crisis in summer. "When we cannot suffice our demand, what is the point of giving water to the two countries. And both the countries should remember that Kashmiris are the final arbitrators of this issue and they have no right to dole out their assets.

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