Bilateral loss

World Bank appoints neutral expert for Baglihar dispute

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

the World Bank (wb) has chosen Raymond Lafitte, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland, to mediate in the India-Pakistan dispute over Baglihar Hydroelectric Project, being constructed on the Chenab river in India. Lafitte is also the president of the International Hydropower Association, a non-governmental grouping of organisations and professionals from around the world working in the hydropower sector. Earlier this year, Pakistan had approached wb to appoint a "neutral expert" to settle the issue, as per annexure f of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (iwt). The move followed the failure of secretary-level talks on the matter (see Down To Earth, 'Clear as mud', February 28, 2005). wb was approached because it was the arbitrator in iwt's formulation . It has now said Lafitte's findings will be made known in time and " his determination will be final and binding".

Under iwt, India has the right over the waters of Ravi, Sutlej and Beas rivers, while Pakistan has it over the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers. Pakistan alleges that Baglihar project's design violates iwt but India denies it. The former claims that the dam's large submerged gates can stop the flow of water in the river and this is an encroachment on its right to receive unrestricted use of its water. It also alleges that the location of the intakes for the turbines is not at the highest level in terms of the criteria laid down in iwt's Annexure d. This "can" produce active storage of water, interfering with water flow, in violation of iwt' s spirit.

Pakistan says it hasn't approved the project's design, a necessity under iwt, and so work on it should be halted. But India maintains that the project follows iwt's Annexure d and does not have the provision of any active water storage and will not disrupt water flow. While it has refused to stop the construction work, prime minister Manmohan Singh has offered to settle the matter bilaterally. He has said if the project's design is found violating iwt, it will be changed. The Union ministry of external affairs recently pointed out: "It may be recalled that India had conveyed to Pakistan its readiness to consider any design changes or technical modifications, in conformity with the treaty, in case Pakistan was able to provide quantified technical objections in this regard."

Now, if the controversy cannot be resolved by the neutral expert, Pakistan may invoke iwt's provisions and ask for the setting up of a Court of Arbitration. This will further delay the project.

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