There is definite water stress in our region so we should work for better water management, conservation and preservation, says Pakistan's top Indus Waters official.

Despite Pakistan raising the pitch on water issues in the past few weeks, this week's meeting of the Permanent Indus Water Commission in New Delhi has been cordial and resolved some pending issues. In an interview with The Hindu on Tuesday, the visiting Pakistan Water Commissioner, Syed Jamait Ali Shah, clarified that Pakistan, in its official capacity, has never made any accusations against India on water sharing and believes all differences of opinion should be settled in a spirit of “cooperation and goodwill.” A veteran on the Permanent Indus Water Commission, Mr. Shah is a Masters in Civil Water Engineering and has led the Pakistani side to the talks for almost a decade.

What was the purpose of the latest meeting of the Permanent Indus Water Commission?

The basic purpose of the meeting was to prepare the annual report of the Commission for the year ending March 31, 2010 and also to chalk out the work plan, meetings and site inspections by either side in the future. It was decided that at least one meeting will be held in June-July in Pakistan and if need be, another meeting before next May will be held. Both sides also agreed that Pakistan will conduct a site inspection around August of the two Chutak and Nimoo Bazgo hydro projects in Leh and Kargil.

The meeting also saw India agreeing to provide 24 hours a day advance warning and flood flow information of the Indus river system between July 1 and August 10. Ravi, Satluj and Chenab are the main rivers of concern as they cause considerable havoc during floods.

Were you able to narrow down your differences with India on the three projects under discussion, namely Uri-II (Jhelum), Chutak and Nimoo Bazgo (both on Indus)?

Pakistan had certain objections to the design of the 240-MW Uri-II project on Jhelum which is almost near the Line of Control. Our objections were on the level of the gates and the sedimentation problem, for which we had not received in-depth information from the Indian side. The information tabled in this meeting and examined by the Commission's design engineers stands resolved.

In both Chutak and Nimoo, Pakistan had apprehensions over the design parameters with regard to parapet so that there is no overstorage. India agreed to Pakistan's suggestion of providing openings in the parapet of the Chutak project.

However, in Nimoo Bazgo Pakistan had six concerns on which India did not provide sufficient information. From Pakistan's point of view, some of the components violate the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty and need adjustments. The Indian side assured Pakistan that it will discuss our concerns and objections with relevant high-level experts and higher ups and give its view on the possibility of flexibility in a week. We have not lost hope for amicable resolution at the level of the Commission.

Does that mean Pakistan has withdrawn its objections?

As a matter of fact, no, although in certain quarters it was wrongly reported as such. We have not withdrawn our objections. Our concerns were discussed under Article IX (1) of the Treaty and supported by the information provided by India. And in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill, the Commission resolved matters pending for the last couple of years.

Baglihar was not on the agenda, but Pakistan raised it this time. What is the issue there?

When India carried out the initial filling of Baglihar in 2008, Pakistan felt procedures and parameters in the Treaty were not followed. There was reduction of flows in the Chenab near the Marala Headworks. India has assured Pakistan that it will take care of such elements in future and will devise a mechanism which is fool-proof in all future projects. The Indian side also accepted that there was slippage on their part. So differences that were pending resolution were resolved in the same spirit of cooperation and goodwill.

Sometimes questions are raised about the efficacy of the Indus Waters Treaty. What is your view?

The treaty has survived two wars. The Indus Water Commission has interacted more than 200 times since 1960. So this cooperation in letter and in spirit is for the betterment of both countries. We intend to benefit on both sides from the waters of the rivers we share.

Why, then, in recent weeks has Pakistan raised the pitch on water issues?

In its official capacity, Pakistan has never made such an accusation (against India). Even within a country, states have water disputes. When you have international water sharing, such things can happen.

Has Pakistan decided to ask for a court of arbitration on the Kishanganga project on Jhelum?

This project is now out of the purview of the Permanent Indus Commission.

Do you feel climate change is impacting water flow patterns?

Yes. Some regions are experiencing higher flows but in our region it is decreasing, especially during monsoon. There is a definite water stress in our region. So we should fully tap all existing water resources, conserve and preserve water sources on scientific grounds like use of sprinklers, drip irrigation and regulation of domestic water uses. When populations are growing and there is stress on food and fibre, there should be water management, conservation and preservation.

Has the Permanent Indus Water Commission helped matters?

The Commission should have the power or mandate with the help of technical advisors to resolve issues [at its level] and deliver results to the respective Governments instead of looking up to non-technical people.