John Briscoe responds:

I am grateful for the offer by The Hindu to respond briefly to the comments on the Indus Waters Treaty by my respected friends Ramaswamy Iyer (“Jubilation at Indus win is premature,” Op-Ed, The Hindu, February 28, 2013) and George Verghese.

Unusually, Mr. Iyer and I agree on most of the substance. The one minor note of difference is that Mr. Iyer ascribes a Machiavellian deviousness to the Pakistani team which is belied by the current efforts in the Pakistani Parliament to punish the team for incompetence in “losing the Kishenganga case.”

Unusually too, I disagree with much of the perspective presented by Mr. Verghese. At the heart of this disagreement is the definition of the storage capacity the Indian authorities could use to change the flow of water into Pakistan. Mr. Verghese chooses to focus on the storage above the level of the spillways which can be opened or closed to pass a flood. However the installation of lower, submerged gates installed for flushing sediments (allowed by the Neutral Expert in the Baglihar case, but disallowed in the ICA Kishenganga case), creates a much larger volume (about five times the amount, in the case of the Baglihar dam) which could be used to manipulate flows. Mr. Verghese takes issue with the contention (most importantly made by the U.S. Committee of Foreign Relations 2011 report of water conflicts) that the Indian dams could be used to withhold flows from Pakistan for as many as 40 days. To get an estimate for this figure, start with the 900 MW Baglihar dam, where total storage is 400 Mm of which manipulable storage (above the submerged gates) is about 220 Mm. India currently plans to install a total of 7,000 MW of capacity on the Chenab, with about 3,000 MW either in operation or under construction. Absence of details on the other plants, it is reasonable to assume that the manipulable storage per MW is the same as for Baglihar. This would mean a total manipulable storage of 1,700 Mm for all planned projects. The average run-off of the Chenab is 33,000 Mm/year, or about 90 Mm per day. Low flows are about 20 per cent of average flows and thus about 18 Mm per day. It is thus estimated that for all planned projects, the total manipulable storage created by India on the Chenab would be able to hold about 20 days of average flow and 100 days of low flow. For projects either existing or under construction (about 3,000 MW) the manipulable storage would be able to hold about eight days of average flow and 40 days of low flow. It is this grave threat which makes this issue an existential one for a reasonably nervous Pakistan.

(John Briscoe served as Senior Water Adviser for the World Bank in New Delhi. Now at Harvard University, he was recently the lead consultant for the Water Sector Task Force of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan.)

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