Amicable solution

Amicable solution

The decision of a court of arbitration in the Hague, with some conditions, that India can go ahead with the construction of the proposed Kishenganga hydro-electric project in Baramullah district in Kashmir is a vindication of its stand in a major river water dispute with Pakistan.

Pakistan had objected to the diversion of water from the Kishenganga, which is a tributary of the Jhelum, on the argument that it would adversely affect the power generation capacity of a downstream project in that country. It had referred the dispute for arbitration under the Indus River Water Treaty of 1960 as bilateral negotiations had failed to produce a result. India had even changed the design and made it a run-of-the-river project, taking Pakistan’s apprehensions into consideration, but this had not satisfied it. As in the case of the dispute over Baglihar dam which also Pakistan referred for adjudication and lost, the decision on Kishenganga should convey the message that unyielding positions would only lead to project delays on both sides.
It is interesting that Pakistan has also seen the decision as a victory because the court has stipulated that India can divert only a minimum amount of water for the project. The rate of flow is to be decided by the court later. India may have to adopt a different technique from what it was till now planning to clear sedimentation in the river so that the reservoir level is not depleted to the detriment of the proposed Pak project. In any case the gain for India is the Hague court’s finding that the Indian project is not in violation of the Indus Water Treaty.

Since both countries are happy with different aspects of the decision, the most important message is that they could have settled the dispute without resort to international arbitration.  The Indus Water Treaty, which allocated three rivers to Pakistan and three to India, without a reference to the quantum of water, is still considered a fair agreement which gives a flexible framework for negotiations. Some disputes like those about the Uri and Chutak projects were resolved bilaterally. It was Pakistan’s exaggerated fears and suspicions which often aggravated the disputes. Water sharing issues also became politically hot in that country. The decision in the Kishenganga dispute can now serve as a guideline for  bilateral resolution of future disputes.

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