Happy ending

The decision of the International Court of Arbitration in the Hague that India can go ahead with the construction of the Kishanganga dam in Kashmir’s Baramullah district, overruling objections raised by Pakistan, is a vindication of India’s long-held position on the disputed project. The 330 mw hydroelectric project on the river, a tributary of the Jhelum, which flows into Pakistan and is known as Neelam there, has been a bone of contention for a long time.

 Pakistan’s case was that diversion of the water from the river would hit the capacity and viability of a river water project it was planning to build downstream. Bilateral talks on the dispute had failed to produce a result and Pakistan referred it for international arbitration under the provisions of the Indus river treaty of 1960. 

The tribunal’s award is final and is more or less on the lines of an interim award given earlier. It has upheld India’s right under the treaty to divert the waters but has also directed that India should maintain a minimum level of flow throughout the year for environmental reasons. India had agreed to this during the talks and made it a run of the river project but Pakistan was still not happy. The interim award also had prescribed it and now the court has defined the quantum of such flows as nine cubic metres per second. One condition imposed by the tribunal is that India should adopt a different technique to flush down sedimentation in the river. These are procedural and technical issues and the important point is that the principle of India’s right to build the dam has been accepted.

Interestingly, Pakistan water minister Khwaja Asif has claimed that the verdict meant a victory for that country in so far as its right to the waters of Kishanganga and other rivers has been established. This had however been never disputed by India and the Indus water treaty had laid down a fair allocation of the rivers between the two countries. Since both countries are happy with the outcome of the arbitration, they could also have agreed on the details even during the bilateral negotiations. These details are in fact not very different from the respective positions of both countries. The dispute was taken for arbitration in 2010. The three-year uncertainty has not helped either country and only delayed work on the projects both had taken up.

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