J&K Can Plug Into More Power As Neutral Expert Clears Baglihar Dam
12 February 2007
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Curtains came down today on a 16-year-old Indo-Pak dispute over the 450 MW Baglihar dam proposed on the Chenab river by India. Swiss Neutral Expert Raymond Lafitte, appointed by the World Bank to consider Pakistan's objections to the project, has upheld India's design of the dam with minor modifications. Result: the verdict was claimed as a win-win by both India and Pakistan, construction of the dam can now continue - 40% has bee built - and is expected to be over in a year. Among other changes, Pakistan had been pressing for the height to be reduced - Lafitte has given it a 1.5-m reduction. On the other hand, he agreed with India's insistence on gated spillways, that is, outlets at the bottom of dam to flush the silt out. Pakistan had objected arguing that these were not permitted in the 1960 Indus Water Treaty and would give India undue leverage to flood the Punjab plains. But Lafitte rejected this saying that current technology - not available in 1960 - would ensure proper use of the water without this risk. 'The reduction of the height will, however, have no impact on power generation capacity of the 450 MW project,' Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz said welcoming the verdict. The modifications will only marginally add to the costs. Much to New Delhi's relief, the award, in which most of Pakistan's objections were rejected, will 'deeply influence all future interpretations of the treaty between the two countries,' Soz said soon after Lafitte gave his report to the two governments in Bern, Switzerland. The implication of this verdict lies in his agreement with the spillway design which wasn't around when the treaty was hammered out in 1960. These state-of-the-art gates are used for not just flood control but emptying of reservoirs and preventing sediment from choking inlet points. Lafitte, after a detailed analysis of the database of about 13,000 dams across the world and the International Commission on Large Dams, held that the site conditions of Baglihar require a gated spillway. He also held that in view of high flood discharge and heavy silt loads, the number, size and location of these gates was important and complied with the Indus Water treaty. This fact will help India strengthen its case in other water disputes in the Indus basin like the long-vexed Tulbul project. Pakistan's main objection to Baglihar was two-fold: It may help India hold and release large volumes of water drowning Pakistan's Punjab floodplains. Two, it makes the project a 'big dam' project which is not allowed in the treaty. In his report, the expert has observed: 'The present-day state of scientific and technical knowledge, not known in 1960, can and should be utilized in dealing with problems like heavy silt sediment that shorten the life of the plants'. This decision is final and binding on the two countries. This was the first time since the signing of the Indus Water Treaty 1960 that a neutral expert had been appointed. Pakistan had raised objections saying that certain features of the design did not conform to criteria specified in the treaty. During the 18-month period after his appointment, Lafitte held five meetings - two in Paris, one each in Geneva, London and Washington. He also visited the Baglihar site and its hydraulic model at Roorkee. Both countries made several written and oral submissions. Lafitte also agreed with India's calculation that 16,500 cubic metres of water (cumec) will flow per second into the dam as against Pakistan's figure of 14,900 cumec in view of climate change. Agreeing with India's methodology of calculating pondage - amount of water held in the dam - Lafitte arrived at a slightly lower value of 32.56 million cubic metres (MCM) than India's figure of 37.72 MCM. According to Pakistan, it should have been only 6.22 MCM. Another point of difference was the elevation of intakes for the turbines of the plant. The treaty required them to be located at the highest level. Pakistan wanted them to be raised by 7 metres, Lafitte said it should be raised by 2 metres. Though India does not agree to this, it says it does not impact power generation in any way. The height of the dam is the only aspect where Pakistan can claim partial victory. Lafitte said that the freeboard (height of the dam) could be reduced by 1.5 m. However, India had already offered possible reduction of freeboard to Pakistan even before the process of arbitration had started. Pakistan, in its statement today, claimed victory on this point. India maintains that all these minor changes are from calculations rather than basic principles. 'The entire Indian team has worked very hard in making a successful case,' said Soz. While Pakistan hired two foreign consultants to build its case, India had a battery of 18 technical experts, policymakers and lawyers. Will be ready by Dec: J&K Power Minister 'It's a win-win situation for India,' said J&K Power Minister Rigzin Jora. 'This will help us complete the project by December-end. Right from the beginning we have been maintaining that we have not violated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. The judgment by neutral experts has proved us right.' Pak claims victory too 'It's a victory for Pakistan,' said Pakistan's Power & Water Minister Liaqat Ali Jatoi. 'Morally, India are bound, and have to respect the decision.' He said the neutral expert's ruling favoured Pakistan on three out of five counts.