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Wullar Barrage Dispute

Despite the signing of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, another dispute emerged in 1985, when Pakistan learnt through a tender notice in the Indian press about the development of a barrage by the name of Tulbul Navigational Project. Islamabad refers to it as the Wullar Barrage dispute while India, which sees the project as an attempt to make the Jhelum navigable, calls it the Tulbul Navigation Project.

The name Tulbul comes from a village at the western tip of the town of Sopore, although when the project was started by India in 1980 the site was shifted to Ningli, on the eastern side of Sopore which was nearer to the Wullar. The barrage was to be constructed by India on River Jhelum, below the Wular Lake where the river Jhelum flows into the Lake in the South and flows out of it from the West. For Pakistan the geo-strategic importance of the site lies in the fact that its possession and control provides India with the means to intimidate Pakistan. A Dam on that site has the potential to ruin the entire system of the triple canal project within Pakistan namely, the upper Jhelum Canal, upper Chenab Canal and the lower Ban Doab Canal.

Indian reasoning is as follows

According to the Indian Government, the purpose of the Wullar Barrage was to construct a control structure, with a view to improving the navigation in the River Jhelum during winters, in order to connect Srinagar with Baramula for transportation of fruits and timber. India claimed that 90 percent of the Tulbul project would be beneficial to Pakistan, as it would regulate the supply to Mangla, Dam, which would increase Pakistan’s capacity of power generation at Mangla, as well as regulate the irrigation network in the Pakistani Punjab through the triple canal system. India further suggested that Pakistan should bear the greater share of constructing the Barrage, as it would be more beneficial to Pakistan, and would be especially effective in reducing the flow of water during the flood season.
As Navigation on the Wullar becomes impossible during the lean period as the flow falls reduces to 2000 cusecs with a depth of 2.5 ft. .- a minimum of 4000 cusecs and 4 ft. depth is required for navigation. In 1984, India thereby started construction of a structure, 440 ft. long with a navigation lock, at the mouth of the Wular Lake. This was to enhance navigation in the lean period between Sopore and Baramula.. Construction stopped in 1987 when Pakistan, referring to the construction as a barrage meant for water storage, accused India of violating the Indus Water Treaty 1960. India has reiterated that the construction, only meant for enhancing ‘navigation’, is permissible under the treaty.

Pakistan’s position

Pointing to the storage utility of the barrage, Pakistan has argued that India has violated the Indus Treaty which prohibits both parties from undertaking any “man-made obstruction” that may cause “change in the volume .. . of the daily flow of waters” unless it is of an insignificant amount. Further, treaty specifically barred India from “storing any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers”

Though the treaty permitted limited storage (not exceeding 10,000 acre ft) for purposes of flood control, it prohibited storage of water “for the purpc.se of impounding the waters of a stream”.

Hence the dispute between India and Pakistan is whether the construction is designed for “impounding” the waters or ‘controlling them.India' rigght to utilize the waters for navigation becomes nugatory if it is unable to use the river during the lean period. Therefore, it has to control the waters, even if temporarily in a manner so as to enhance its navigability. This is in violation of the Treaty

Wullar Barrage Dangerous for Pakistan

The control of the River Jhelum by India through a storage work would mean a serious threat to Pakistan should India decide to withhold the water over an extended period, especially during the dry season. It would also multiply and magnify the risks of floods and droughts in Pakistan. The MangIa Dam on River Jhelum, which is a source of irrigation and electricity for Punjab. would be adversely affected.
b. Provide India a strategic edge, during a military confrontation, enabling it to control the mobility and retreat of Pakistani troops and enhancing the manoeuvrability of Indian troops. Closing the Barrage gates would render the Pakistani canal system dry and easy to cross. During the 1965 war, the Indian Army failed to cross the BRB Link Canal, due to its full swing flow. India is already in control of the Chenab River through Salal Dam constructed in 1976.

Bilateral Negotiations

Pakistan referred the Wular Barrage case to the Indus Waters Commission in 1986, which, in 1987, recorded its failure to resolve it. When India suspended the construction work, Pakistan did not take the case n the International Arbitral Court. To date, several rounds of talks have been held In 1989, Pakistan agreed to build a barrage conditional to Pakistani inspection, which India rejected. The two sides almost reached an agreement in October 1991, whereby India would keep 6.2 meters of the barrage un-gated with a crest level of 1574.90m (5167 ft), and would forego the storage capacity of 300,000 acre feet. In return, the water level in the Barrage would be allowed to attain the full operational level of 5177.90 ft. lndi9ns are not satisfied with this arrangement, therefore, the issue lingers on.

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