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Another water battle looming

Athar Parvaiz

Readinch

Pakistan is gearing up for a new fight with India, reports Athar Parvaiz from Ladakh. At the centre of the latest row is a dam funded by international efforts to tackle global warming. 

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The never-ending war over water resources between India and Pakistan has taken a new twist. Pakistan has registered its resentment against the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for a decision to grant carbon credits to India for a controversial 45-megawatt power project on the Indus River. 

This is the latest in a series of disputes between the two countries over hydro-projects on the Indus. Pakistan has already objected to construction work at several other sites – including the Baglihar dam, the Wullar Barrage and the Kishanganga project – under the provisions of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which provides a mechanism for the two south Asian neighbours to settle trans-boundary water disputes.

With India securing international carbon credits for the Nimoo-Bazgo project in Ladakh, in the country’s north-west, Pakistan again sees its interests under threat. It accuses India of going ahead with the construction of the power project without the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearance from Pakistan, and claims the project will dramatically decrease downstream river flow into Pakistan.

India has managed to get approval for carbon credits amounting to US$482,000 (3 million yuan) from the UNFCCC, over a period of seven years, for the Nimoo-Bazgo and Chutak hydropower projects. Both schemes are in Ladakh province, in the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. While Pakistan said it had no problem with the construction of the Chutak power project, it raised strong objections to the Nimoo-Bazgo scheme.

The carbon credits were awarded under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a carbon trading scheme devised as an international tool for fighting global warming, which gives companies in industrialised countries an incentive to invest in greenhouse gas reduction projects. But Pakistan has expressed surprise that India managed to earn carbon credits from the UNFCCC for such a controversial project, without Pakistan’s consent.

The Nimoo-Bazgo project was conceived in 2001 and construction began in June 2005.  India applied for the carbon credits the following year and, in 2008, the UNFCCC approved the bid. Pakistan did not challenge the UNFCC decision until October 2011; it took the country three years to come to the conclusion that India had violated both the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) and the conditions of the UNFCCC for gaining carbon credits.

“There are two aspects to the Nimoo-Bazgar project: one that India is guilty of violating the treaty; and secondly, India is violating CDM rules and regulations under the rules and modalities of the Marrakesh Accords, article 37 B and C, which talk about stakeholder consultation regarding impacts of the project,” said Shafqat Kakakhel, former United Nations Environment Programme official and member of the international CDM board.  

“Under article 37, the stakeholders have to be consulted with regard to the environmental impacts including trans-boundary impacts. The question is whether India informed the stakeholders – and who are they? Pakistan is a stakeholder as it is situated so close to the Line of Control [the militarised border between Pakistani and Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir],” Kakakhel explained. 

On January 14, a Pakistani newspaper, The News International, reported that concerned authorities in Pakistan “have thoroughly reviewed all official records that show that no authority from Pakistan ratified the EIA for this project thus creating a doubt that India might have provided fake information to UNFCCC to earn carbon credits for financial gains.”

After waking up to the fact India had actually secured carbon credits for to the project, the Pakistani government launched an inquiry in 2011. It blamed Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, former commissioner of the Pakistan Commission of Indus Water (PCIW), for condoning India’s plans during his time in office. Shah has been accused of sacrificing his country’s interests by conceding to India.

“The PCIW headed by Syed Jamaat Ali Shah remained silent during 2007, 2008, 2009 about the project. But surprisingly it started pursuing the project vigorously at all levels when it was known that it would be impossible to change the design of the project after its completion. By that time it was too late for any court or neutral expert to give a decision against the project,” stated a Pakistani newspaper, quoting an official report. 

One option open to Pakistan is to refer the case to the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) under the World Bank mediated IWT. The treaty gives Pakistan exclusive rights to use the western rivers – the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – while India has exclusive rights to the eastern rivers. But, while Pakistan threatened to do so more than a month ago, it has not yet filed a petition. No official in Pakistan could be contacted to comment on this issue but, on January 26, Pakistan’s Daily Times reported that the case would be taken up in February due to a delay in preparing the documents, quoting a senior official. Now into March, the delay drags on.

If Pakistan does proceed down this route, it will not be the first time the country has resorted to international arbitration. Last year, Pakistan turned to the ICA to stop India’s construction of the Kishanganga dam, following the collapse of bilateral negotiations. The construction of the Kishanganga project was particularly significant for Pakistan because the country is constructing its own dam (the 969-megawatt Neelum-Jhelum scheme) on the Pakistani side of the Kishanganga River, which is known as the Neelum in Pakistan. The IWT states that the country that completes its project first, will secure priority rights to the river. India has completed 40% of the construction of its project, while Pakistan’s progress lags far behind.

In September 2011, a ruling by the ICA put India’s construction of the 330-megawatt Kishangaga project on hold, though it allowed India to proceed with all other construction that did not inhibit the river’s flow.

Pakistani experts say that the 57-metre high Nimoo-Bazgo project will substantially reduce downstream water flows in the Indus River, because the project has deep spillways and is designed to store 120 million cubic metres of water.

Pakistani experts have asserted that, with the spillways along with gates, India will be able to regulate the water of Indus, a situation which is "not acceptable to Pakistan.” They also point out that the design and depth of the dam clearly breaches the IWT.

India has, however, rejected all objections made by Pakistan and said it will complete the project by 2013. Throughout the disputes, India has maintained that these are run-of-the-river projects that, under the water-sharing treaty, it is within its legal rights to build.

Athar Parvaiz is an environmental journalist based in Kashmir.
 

Image by Muzaffar Bukhari shows a view of Digwar, a small town bordering Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

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