Delhi Round of Indo-Pak Talks - II Tulbul Navigation Project/Wular Barrage

27 Nov, 1998    ·   162

Detailing the origin of the issue, the Indian and Pakistani positions and the results of the current round of talks on the issue, Mallika Joseph concludes "Unless there is an acknowledgment of the domestic payoffs, solutions on simple issues like that of the Tulbul Navigation Project/ Wular Barrage will remain stalled".

One among the various irritants in Indo-Pak relations is the issue of Tulbul Navigation Project/Wular Barrage. ( India refers to it as the Tulbul Navigation Project and Pakistan terms it the Wular Barrage). It involves the construction by India of a barrier on the Jhelum River , downstream of the Wular Lake , to make the river navigable during the lean period between late-October and mid-February.



The issue



Navigation on the Wular becomes impossible during the lean period as the flow falls reduces to 2000 cusecs with a depth of 2.5 ft. - a minimum of 4000 cusecs and 4 ft. depth is required for navigation. In 1984, India thereby started construction of a structure, 440 ft. long with a navigation lock, at the mouth of the Wular Lake , in the town of Ningli near Sopore, 40 kms north of Srinagar . This was to enhance navigation in the lean period between Sopore and Baramula, a distance of about 20 kms. Construction stopped in 1987 when Pakistan , referring to the construction as a barrage meant for water storage, accused India of violating the Indus Water Treaty 1960. India has reiterated that the construction, only meant for enhancing ‘navigation’, is permissible under the treaty.



India 's position



The Indus Water Treaty divided the six rivers of Punjab between India and Pakistan . India got unrestricted use of the three eastern rivers- Beas , Ravi and Sutlej , and Pakistan got the three western rivers- Chenab , Indus and Jhelum . However, Article III (1) provided that both countries have access to each other's rivers for four distinct purposes: domestic use, agricultural use, restricted use for generation of hydroelectric power through a “run-of-the-river” plant, and non-consumptive use. Non- consumptive use included use of the waters for navigation and other purposes provided the water is returned to the river undiminished in quantity. India constructed the barrage to enhance navigation in terms of Article III (1).



Pakistan 's position



Pointing to the storage utility of the barrage, Pakistan has argued that India has violated Article I (11) of the Treaty which prohibits both parties from undertaking any “man-made obstruction” that may cause “change in the volume …of the daily flow of waters” unless it is of an insignificant amount. Further, Article III (4) specifically barred India , from “store[ing] any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers”. Though the treaty permitted limited storage (not exceeding 10,000 acre ft.) for purposes of flood control, it prohibited storage of water “for the purpose of impounding the waters of a stream”.



The problem



The question germane to the issue is whether the construction is designed for “impounding” the waters or “controlling” them. India 's right to utilize the waters for navigation becomes nugatory if it is unable to use the river during the lean period. Therefore, it has to control the waters, even if temporarily in a manner so as to enhance its navigability. This is in violation of the Treaty.



Until now eight rounds of talks have been held. The two sides almost reached an agreement in October 1991 whereby India would keep 6.2 meters of the barrage ungated with a crest level at EL 1574.90m (5167 ft), and would forgo storage capacity of 300,000 acre feet out of the provision permitted to it on the Jhelum (excluding Jhelum main). In return, the water level in the barrage would be allowed to attain the full operational level of 5177.90 ft.



However, in February 1992 Pakistan added another condition: India should not construct the Kishenganga (390 mw) hydro-power generating unit. While India had accepted all the earlier conditions, it has refused to accept this prohibition. According to Pakistan , the Kishenganga project on River Neelam affects its own Neelam-Jhelum power-generating project in its Punjab province.



Present talks



Talks on this issue were held in November 5-13, 1998. The Indian side was led by Water Resources Secretary Z. Hasan and the Pakistan side by Water and Power Secretary Syed Shahid Hussain. There was no forward movement as the two sides stuck to their earlier positions. Though initially Pakistan wanted to start the dialogue process afresh, India succeeded in persuading Pakistan to resume the dialogue from where they had stalled in August 1992. Pakistan could not be convinced that the project was only for navigation, but that the increase in the flow during the lean season would actually benefit both sides. Further, it rejected the draft agreement reached in 1992 and insisted that it needed a fresh look. On its part, the Indian side rejected the assertion that the project was for storage reiterating that the Wular Lake was an existing lake and Indian action amounted to only “regulating the flow” and not “storing” the waters. Despite their differences, a joint statement issued after the talks said the two sides would continue discussions during the next round of composite dialogue to find a solution consistent with the Indus Treaty.






Any lasting solution to the issue can only be achieved if there is political will on both sides to resolve the problem. What lies at the heart of the matter is a lack of understanding about the payoffs. Unless there is an acknowledgment of the domestic payoffs, solutions on simple issues like that of the Tulbul Navigation Project/ Wular Barrage will remain stalled.