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India yet to decide on water talks with Pakistan proposed by World Bank

India is yet to decide on a proposal from the World Bank for talks with Pakistan in Washington next month to resolve differences over the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects.

india Updated: Mar 25, 2017 18:00 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta and Imtiaz Ahmad
Indus Waters Treaty
Pakistan’s water and power minister Khawaja Asif told a news conference in Islamabad on Monday that Indian and Pakistani officials are set to meet in Washington during April 11-13 for talks brokered by the World Bank.

New Delhi is yet to take a call on the World Bank’s proposal for a meeting between the water secretaries of India and Pakistan in Washington next month to resolve differences over the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects.

Pakistan’s water and power minister Khawaja Asif told a news conference in Islamabad on Monday that Indian and Pakistani officials are set to meet in Washington during April 11-13 for talks brokered by the World Bank.

Asif was speaking on the margins of a meeting between the Indus water commissioners, which concluded on Tuesday.

An Indian government source told Hindustan Times, “As of now, we have not decided anything. We will take a call after the 10-member team headed by Indus water commissioner PK Saxena returns from Islamabad.”

The World Bank, which brokered the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 and has a key role in helping resolve differences, said it is prepared to facilitate the meeting.

“We continue to work with both countries to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty. We would hope that the two countries will come to an agreement soon,” said Alexander Anthony Ferguson, World Bank’s senior manager communications (South Asia).

Both countries are involved in a dispute over the 330MW Kishanganga project and the 850MW Ratle project being built on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. Objecting to the design of the Kishenganga project, Pakistan said it flouted provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty and would result in a 40% reduction of water flow.

Pakistan also wants the storage capacity of the Ratle project to be reduced from 24 million cubic metres to 8 million cubic metres. Both sides took up these issues with the World Bank.

New Delhi took strong exception to the World Bank’s decision to set up a court of arbitration, as desired by Pakistan, and to also appoint a neutral expert, as wanted by India, over the two projects. It said proceeding with both steps simultaneously was “legally untenable”.

The World Bank then paused the separate processes to allow the two countries to consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements.

A government official said, “India’s stand on the issue is very clear. We will not be party to a court of arbitration process on Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects, a demand by Islamabad that has been accepted by the World Bank.”

Pakistan’s water and power minister Asif also said the US and the World Bank had intervened to arrange the meeting in Washington.

“The US has intervened at the highest level to help both countries resolve the issue. There will be secretary-level talks on the Ratle and Kishanganga hydropower projects in Washington on April 11, 12 and 13,” he said.

Asif said Pakistan is happy that India had agreed to resume talks between the Indus waters commissioners. “We welcome this decision and the visit of the Indian delegation,” he said.

Pakistan wants India to share the design of the Pakul Dal, Miyar and Lower Kalnai projects, he said, adding that “if they hurt Pakistan’s interests, then objections will be raised at the appropriate forum”.

Asif refused to speculate whether the water talks could lead to the resumption of bilateral dialogue, which was stalled after a series of terror attacks last year that were blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants.

The water secretaries of India and Pakistan last met in July 2016 in New Delhi but the discussions were inconclusive.