By Arabinda Ghose
The failure of the talks between the water resources Secretaries of India and Pakistan on the Baglihar hydro-electric project in Doda district of Jammu & Kashmir and the undiplomatic demeanour on the part of the Pakistani delegation at the end of the talks demonstrate only one thing?Pakistan wants to eat the cake of water and have it too.
There are two explanations for the intransigent attitude of Pakistan on the issue of the Baglihar project. One, it does not want any development schemes to be undertaken in Jammu & Kashmir which would benefit the local population and which therefore will make them indifferent towards Pakistani claim on the entire state. Two, it wants to dangle the threat of World Bank sanctions against India for ?violating? the Indus Waters Treaty signed on September 19, 1960 between India and Pakistan with the World Bank acting as a guarantor of sorts.
Why is Pakistan so sensitive towards any water resources development activity in Jammu & Kashmir? One recalls that in case of the Salal hydel project in the state too, on the same Chenab river, they had visited the site a number of times and had compelled India to build a one-kilometre long tail-race tunnel which would carry the waters of the Chenab after passing through the turbines and joining the river once again.
Before proceeding further, let us begin from the beginning. If one looks a little closely at the map of Pakistan, one would be somewhat astonished to discover that there is not a single river originating in that country which can provide even drinking water to its entire population (rainfall there is not very heavy). It is true that what was previously called West Pakistan or west Punjab had a large network of irrigation systems. However, the sources of water for that excellent system lay in India. In fact the territory that became Pakistan was totally dependent upon the Indus, the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Satluj for their needs?from drinking to meeting domestic needs to irrigating their fields. The Radcliffe Award did allot the excellent canal system to west Punjab, but it could not give the sources of these rivers to Pakistan, obviously. So, after Partition, the new country had to depend upon India, which it hated no end for the very sustenance of its people.
So, Pakistan had to sign a standstill agreement with India on December 18, 1947 for maintaining the pre-Partition allocation of water from the Indus basin to west Punjab (Pakistan).
(Quoted from G.S. Dhillon, September 10, 2004 in the Indian Express.)
However, this agreement ended on March 31, 1948 leading to stoppage of water to Pakistan on the eve of the kharif-sowing season. The waters were being released from the Madhopur headworks on River Ravi and the Husseiniwala headworks across the Satluj. A high-level delegation then came from Pakistan to negotiate the supply of water and according to G.S. Dhillon, India had then told Pakistan that it considered Ravi, Beas and Satluj rivers as assets of east Punjab (India).
On May 4, 1948, another agreement, called the Inter-Dominion Agreement, which provided for a workable arrangement, was signed. Pakistan had to deposit a sum in the Reserve Bank of India for meeting the costs of headworks to be built in India for supplying water to Pakistan.
To cut a long story short, the World Bank intervened and under its auspices?talks had begun in 1952 itself?the Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru signing it on behalf of India and President Ayub Khan on behalf of Pakistan. The treaty ?allotted? the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab to Pakistan, and Satluj, Ravi and Beas to India.
Thus, it was courtesy the World Bank and the interest shown by several western countries that the Treaty was signed in 1960. Being a civilised nation, India did not cut off the supply in the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab, which were allocated to Pakistan under the Treaty, even once, although it was perfectly capable of doing so, in 1965, 1971, during the Kargil war of 1999 or the assault on Parliament House in New Delhi in December 2002. There have been demands in India that this country should scrap the Indus Waters Treaty because it prevents India from making use of the waters of the three rivers allotted to Pakistan for hydro-electricity generation which does not involve consumptive use of water and so is not against the Treaty conditionalities. The Tulbul nativation project in the Kashmir Valley is one such scheme, which has been held over by Pakistan for the last 16 years on some pretext or the other, although no consumptive use of waters of River Jhelum are involved in this scheme.
Many of us in India are not aware that the mighty Indus flows for 435 kilometres through Indian territory?from Demchok on the border with Tibet to Batalik in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Both the Chenab and the Jhelum originate in India unlike the Indus, which has its source in the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet.
It is not quite relevant at this stage, but even in respect to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, India is the sole supplier of river waters there, since not a single large river originates in that country. It is true that Bangladesh does get heavy rains, but the south-west monsoon does not last beyond four months in a year. A friendly Bangladesh government could get allocated 35,000 cusecs (cubic foot per second) of Ganga waters from the Farakka Barrage during the dry season (January 1 to May 31) when the Ganga does not carry even 50,000 cusecs during the peak summer months (1996 Treaty).
Pakistan, on the other hand, has adopted a confrontationist attitude in respect of the river waters. Well, it is time India told Pakistan that enough is enough and should go ahead with completing the 450-MW Baglihar project irrespective of the tantrums of the leaders of that country, who are now supposed to be engaged in confidence-building measures with India. Blocking the construction of the Baglihar project is presumably one of those measures. Right, President Musharraf?