March 2005 News

The Baglihar Tactlessness

18 March 2005
The Dawn
Dr Mubashir Hasan

Karachi: 'The government of India and the government of Pakistan, being equally desirous of attaining the most complete and satisfactory utilization of the waters of the Indus system of rivers and recognizing the need, therefore, of fixing and delineating, in a spirit of goodwill and friendship, the rights and obligations of each in relation to the other concerning the use of these waters and of making provision for the settlement, in a cooperative spirit, of all such questions as may hereafter arise' signed in 1960, the Indus Waters Treaty. However, the engineers, lawyers and ill-informed foreign policy establishments of India and Pakistan have erred in correctly dealing with the Baglihar Dam issue. The negotiations between the two countries broke down. Pakistan has gone to the World Bank for interpretation of certain clauses of the Treaty. India seems determined to complete the project as planned. The course of events is unfortunate. The spirit of the Treaty is not being respected. When the two countries were making progress in the composite dialogue, the issue of the dam should not have been allowed to become controversial. The Indus Waters Treaty lays out in precise detail how the so-called 'Run of River' hydroelectric project shall be built and operated for generation of electrical power. The Treaty lays down that for the project situated on the river Chenab, as Bagilhar: ..... The volume of water delivered into the river below the plant in any one period of 24 hours shall not be less than 50 per cent and not more than 130 per cent of the volume received above the plant during the same 24 hour period. The Treaty further specifies that the hydroelectric plant shall be so operated that (a) the volume of water received in the river upstream of the Plant, during any period of seven consecutive days shall be delivered into the river below the plant during the same seven days period. (Clause 15, Annexure D). The clause, indeed, defines a run- of-the-river project. Other clauses in the Treaty make provisions for tolerances allowed in these volumes of flow and how annual fillings and depletions shall be carried out by India. Once the project is in operation all the water that flows into its lake in one week is to be released downstream during the same week. It may be made to pass through electrical power generating turbines, or allowed freely to flow over a spillway or both. No storage is allowed except during the monsoons when there is excess of water. In several respects the concept of a Run-of-River project is similar to that of a vault of a bank which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Cash is deposited and withdrawn from the bank all the time. What comes in the bank has to go out. However, a vault is needed to keep safely what has to come in and what has to go out during a day's, a week's or a year's transaction. Depending upon the requirements of the flow of cash, no banker would build too small or too large a vault, as vault is very expensive to build. An honest banker will also not make secret compartments in his vault in which the cash not properly shown in the accounts can be kept. The same principle, more or less, is applicable to the design of the lake behind the run-of-river dam. At the moment, Pakistani engineers suspect, rightly or wrongly, that the design of the Bagilhar project provides for storage of such volumes of water as are not allowed by the Treaty to be stored The reasons why Pakistan has gone to the World Bank seem to be that in its view the design of the Bagilhar Dam being constructed by India violates the criteria laid down in Paragraph 8 of Annexure D to the Treaty. For instance Clause 8, Sub- Clause (a) lays down: 8 (a) The works themselves shall not be capable of raising artificially the water level in the operating pool above the full pondage level specified in the design. The power generated at a hydroelectric plant is not constant during all hours of the day and night or all days of the week. We need more power during the day and less at night, more on week days, less on holidays. Thus the demand of electricity on a powerhouse keeps changing. As demand goes down a generator may be shut or slowed down which means that the quantity of water passing through one or more turbine will be reduced, which in turn would mean that the level in the reservoir shall go up a little. The rise of water level in the reservoir due to fluctuations in the discharge through turbines is classified as permissible and the Treaty allows this minimal raise. However, if a design allows water level to rise through a construction feature incorporated in the design, that rise of water level is termed artificial by the Treaty and is prohibited. Pakistan's case seems to be that the Bagilhar design does incorporate features to store water and-or raise levels artificially. One such feature is that the top of the concrete dam is 4.5 meters above the highest water level in the lake which, according to Pakistani engineers is excessive. The extra height seems to be redundant as far as the operation of the dam designed as present is concerned. However it will become usable when India decides to raise the level of the lake at a future date. Should that be the case and if the Treaty permits the raising of the dam at a later date, then it would be prudent for India to wait until then. Pakistan built Mangla dam in the sixties and left the scope of it being raised by another 40 feet which, incidentally Pakistan intends to do now. India can also defer raising the height of the dam to a later date. Another feature of the present design is the level of an outlet which Pakistan objects as being placed too low in the wall of the dam. The Treaty permits low level outlets under certain conditions. Unless Pakistan and India reveal the data and the experimental studies which constitute the basis of their arguments it is not possible to comment on the validity of their stand in this article. A major objection of Pakistan relates to clause 8, sub- clause (c) of Annexure D. This sub-clause lays down: 8 (c) The maximum pondage in the operating pool shall not exceed twice the pondage required for firm power. The pondage means that limited volume of stored water which is only sufficient to meet fluctuations in the discharge of the turbines arising from variations in the daily and the weekly loads on the plant. Since turbines are designed to operate at different capacities - 100 per cent, 80 per cent, 60 per cent etc - the Treaty limits the pondage to twice the pondage for firm power, that is, the output of turbines which is based on the mean discharge of the river. The method of calculating firm power is described in detail in the Treaty. If the engineers of Pakistan and India do not agree on the figure and even assuming that one or both of them do not agree on what the man from the World Bank, to whom the case has been referred, says the decision can be taken at political level as it is always done when professionals on the two sides of a case do not agree but the political leaders so desire. For example, at some point in the nineteenth century, the Czar of Russia ordered the building of railway line from Moscow to St Petersburg. His engineers could not agree on the alignment of the railway line that had to pass through extensive marshlands. Exasperated by the indecision of the engineers, he called for the map and drew a line ordered 'Build along this line'. The railway line was built and is running since then. Should Indian engineers claim that in the present case the figure should be say, 80 units and Pakistanis says 50 then, surely, General Pervez Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh can sit down and dictate a figure to engineers to work on. Nothing strategic is involved. The interest of giving momentum to the composite dialogue is far more important.


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