India, Pakistan may hold talks on Tulbul navigation project

India, Pakistan may hold talks on Tulbul navigation project

New Delhi: Against the backdrop of the Mumbai terror attack, for which India has blamed Pakistani nationals, and the resulting toll on trade between the two countries, the neighbours are expected to meet shortly to hold discussions on the controversial Tulbul navigation project of Wullar Lake on the Jhelum in Jammu and Kashmir.

The project aims to connect Baramulla to Anantnag and would require creation of a reservoir, which would increase the draught in the river during the winter period of November-February, helping in navigation.

The Jhelum originates in India and flows into Pakistan. Pakistan has insisted that building the reservoir would be in contravention of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960.

“We will be going ahead with the talks even in this atmosphere, as the project will be more beneficial to us than them. Pakistan has objections to the project as they feel by building the reservoir, we will be able to control the flow of river and use it to our advantage," claims a senior official in the ministry of water resources who didn’t want to be named.

But previous discussions on this between the two countries have been unsuccessful.

Tulbul, along with other hydroelectric power projects such as Baglihar, Kishanganga and Uri–II, comes under the ambit of the Indus Water Treaty.

There are higher risks associated with the Tulbul project due to difficult geology and its proximity to the border with Pakistan.

“If the project is beneficial to India, we should not withdraw from our end. However, it is to be seen if Pakistan delivers. That is the big question," said K. Ramanathan, distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based The Energy and Research Institute.

India is making renewed efforts to revive the 18-year-old 330MW Kishanganga, egged on by the progress made by Pakistan on a competing 969MW downstream project, as reported by Mint on 15 April.

According to the Indian water ministry, the total navigable length of inland water-ways in India is 15,783km, of which the maximum stretch lies in Uttar Pradesh, followed by West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Bihar, respectively.

Following the Mumbai attacks, India has already dropped trade plans with Pakistan which, it says, houses groups that trained and armed the terrorists. Pakistan, on its part, denies involvement in the terror strikes in India’s commercial capital.

The Mumbai terror attack has led India to abandon plans to set up border posts to facilitate movement of goods and people to and from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, as reported by Mint on 5 December.

India’s recent plans to promote trade included removing Pakistan from the list of countries from where foreign direct investment was not allowed due to security reasons; opening branches of State Bank of India and Bank of India in that country; trading in 1,938 items compared with the current 13; and opening the Skardu-Kargil route in Jammu and Kashmir for commerce.