Kishanganga dam controversy: Top officials’ tussle may damage case for water rights

Indus Water Commissioner excluded from ICA hearing at The Hague.

Zafar Bhutta August 23, 2011


While India has already started work on the controversial Kishanganga Hydroelectric Power Project (KHEP) in Indian Kashmir, a dispute between top government officials may seriously damage Pakistan’s case for securing priority rights over Neelum River.

The badly-timed tussle appears to have intensified right before the hearing of the case against the construction of the dam, due to take place at the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in The Hague on August 25

The tensions between Indus Water Commissioner Sheraz Memon and the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Water Resources Kamal Majeedullah had reached such high levels of intensity that steps needed to be taken to alleviate the situation, sources told The Express Tribune.

This involved sending Memon on an ‘official course’, resulting in his exclusion from the delegation due to attend the ICA hearing from August 25-27. Earlier, at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Water and Power, the commissioner had alleged that Majeedullah had caused a delay in the ICA case when he had hired a lawyer based on personal choice.

According to sources, the controversy also included Memon’s objections to the delegation’s inclusion of law ministry official Shumaila Tariq and Ambassador-at-Large Khalil Ahmad. When contacted, the commissioner confirmed that he was not going to attend the hearing at The Hague.

At the same time, he denied his absence from the hearing as being a result of any kind of pressure, adding that joining the course was routine official practice.

The first hearing was held at The Hague on January 14, 2011 when it was decided that Pakistan would submit its case to the ICA in May. At the upcoming hearing, Pakistan aims to obtain a stay order to put a halt to the KHEP, which it says will seriously hinder its own Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Project (NHJEP). Memon had earlier said, “I had insisted during the first proceedings in the international court to obtain a stay order against the construction of the Kishanganga dam, but Kamal Majeedullah did not agree with this course of action.”

The waters of the Kishanganga River are to be diverted through a 24-kilometre-long tunnel for power production. The remaining water flow will join the Wullar Lake and ultimately run through Jhelum to Muzaffarabad. If successfully implemented by India, the KHEP, initiated in 2007, will result in a shortfall of about 21% of Neelum’s inflow for the NHJEP. This would reduce the project’s much needed energy generation by 10%. The KHEP’s completion would also significantly harm agriculture, fisheries, and the economy as a whole.

Bilateral negotiations on the KHEP were halted in April 2010, when India argued that the project had been initiated before the NHJEP. While the project was kept on a top priority list in Pakistan’s 2002 Power Policy and was scheduled to be completed within six years, the government awarded the NJHEP to the Chinese Gezhouba Group of Companies in 2008. By that point, India had already been working on the KHEP for a year.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2011.

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