Indus waters row with Pak to intensify as India accuses World Bank of bias

The India-Pakistan water dispute is set to intensify, with New Delhi questioning the World Bank’s neutrality in arbitrating between the two countries.

The World Bank, which brokered the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960, settles differences arising from sharing of water and setting up projects along the Indus river basin.

India is miffed with the international body for accepting Pakistan’s demand to initiate a court of arbitration (CoA) process to resolve a dispute involving the 330-MW Kishenganga and 850-MW Ratle hydroelectric projects. Government sources said New Delhi – in a strongly worded letter – accused the World Bank of adopting a “non-neutral” stand that appeared to favour Pakistan.

India shot off the letter soon after returning from Washington, where both the countries had been invited for mediation on November 17. “We have told them in no uncertain terms that their action is biased, and India is not going to take part in the arbitration proceedings. We have taken a very hard stand against the World Bank for not acting on India’s request to have neutral experts look into the dispute as per IWT provisions,” said a foreign ministry official.

An official from the Union water resources ministry alleged that the World Bank did nothing despite having 20 days to work on India’s request. “But they promptly accepted Pakistan’s demand to have a CoA,” he said.

The latest row follows the World Bank’s decision to proceed simultaneously with two parallel mechanisms – Pakistan’s demand for a CoA and India’s request for neutral experts. India termed it as a decision that was “legally untenable” and violated the provisions of the IWT. Sources said India may consider approaching the United Nations for redressal if the World Bank insisted on following this course of action.

The tussle involves two hydroelectric projects that are coming up on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers respectively. Objecting to the design of the 330-MW Kishenganga project, Pakistan claimed it would result in a 40% reduction of water flowing into the country – flouting IWT provisions in the process. As for the 850 MW Ratle power plant, Pakistan wants the planned storage capacity of the project to be reduced from 24 million cubic metres to eight million cubic metres.

India, however, held that the two projects do not violate any provision of the treaty.

This row has put the IWT under further strain. After the September 18 attack on the Uri army camp, the Modi government had indicated that it would make full use of its share of water permissible under the treaty to provide for India’s power and agricultural needs.

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