Reviewing Tulbul navigation project can put Pakistan on backfoot: Officials

The Indian government's decision at a high-level meeting on Monday to "review" the suspension of construction on the Tulbul navigation project has given it "a geo-strategic edge" on the protracted water-treaty issue with neighbour Pakistan, informed sources claimed.

Official sources said the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended, among others, by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Union Water Secretary Shashi Shekhar, took a "conscious decision" to review the 1987 decision when, following objections from Pakistan, the construction works were suspended by the then Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government.

India had started constructing of a 439-feet-long and 40-feet-wide barrage at the mouth of the Wular Lake to ensure the flow of water in winter to 4,000 cusecs.

To facilitate trade, tourism and employment of local population, India envisages controlled release of water from the lake during the lean season months of October to February to facilitate year-round navigation.

"Allowing throughout the year navigation in the 74 sq. km. Wular lake would be in Indian interest. But to ensure navigation throughout the year, there is need for a minimum depth of water. About 22 km between Sopore and Baramula becomes non-navigable during winter," a source said.

"Pakistan stalled the navigation project citing unfounded apprehensions. Even during the UPA regime in 2006-07, New Delhi had maintained that the regulating structure is permitted under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 for the non-consumptive use of navigation," the source told IANS.

India had taken up major construction works to control water flow but Pakistan had expressed fears in 1985-86 that improving navigation in the lake would be to India's advantage due to geographical factors and India's location.

While India claims the barrage would make the river navigable, Pakistan said "controlled flow of water to the Jhelum" can harm parts of Pakistan.

Islamabad feared since 1980s that if a dam -- which it calls as Wular Barrage -- was built, India would be able to create and control the "flow of water" into the Jhelum and that can often result in drought and flood situations "at will" in Pakistani Kashmir, sources said.

India says that, on the contrary, the project will help better connection between Srinagar and Baramula for transporting fruits, timber and other commodities.

"This would have been an economic game-changer in north Kashmir," says a source adding, however, that Pakistan had stalled it "only raising hue and cry".

"Even at Monday's meeting, it was underlined that the apprehensions about its adverse impact on Pakistan and PoK agrarian areas was hyped," the source said.

Pakistan had protested claiming construction of the navigation project also amounted to a violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty.

India started the work around 1984 on the river Jhelum but after Pakistan threatened to move the International Arbitral Court in 1986, the Indian government decided to suspend the work in 1987.

Sources pointed out that Tulbul navigaion project has figured during formal talks between the two countries at the diplomatic tables -- first in 2006-07 and later also in 2011.

Series of Water Resources Secretary-level talks have been held, including in 1998, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 and also in 2011.