India and Pakistan will hold talks on various issues relating to the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in Lahore on March 20-21 with the Indian side maintaining that it is always open to a resolution bilaterally.
"The agenda for the meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) has not been finalised yet but India is always open to settling issues relating to the pact with Pakistan bilaterally," a top government source said.
Pakistan has been flagging concern over designs of India's five hydroelectricity projects -- Pakal Dul (1000 MW), Ratle (850 MW), Kishanganga (330 MW), Miyar (120 MW) and Lower Kalnai (48 MW) -- being built/planned in the Indus river basin, contending these violate the treaty.
Pakistan had also approached the World Bank, the mediator between the two countries of the 57-year-old water distribution treaty, in August last year raising issues over Kishanganga and Ratle in Jammu and Kashmir. While there is no confirmation so far whether issues relating to these two projects will figure during the two-day meet as they are before the WB, the source said Pakal Dul, Miyar and Lower Kalnai may be discussed.
"Pakistan has been raising concern over designs of the three projects for at least two-three years now. "These issues may be discussed as there has not been any resolution yet," the source said, but stressed "these projects do not violate the pact". The three projects, being built on tributaries of Chenab river, are in the pre-construction/under-construction stages.
Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai are being built in Jammu and Kashmir at cost of Rs 7464 crore (November 2008 price level) and Rs 396 crore respectively. Miyar hydroelectricity project, located in Himachal Pradesh's Lahaul Spiti district, is estimated to cost Rs 1125 crore. The commission, which has officials from both the countries as its members, was set up under the treaty to discuss and resolve issues relating to its implementation. It is mandatory for the commission to meet at least once in a fiscal, alternately in India and Pakistan.
The PIC's meeting, to be attended by India's Indus water commissioner and MEA officials, will take place nearly six months after New Delhi decided to suspend talks on the pact in the wake of the Uri terror attack by Pakistan-based outfits. The PIC had last met in May 2015 here. India had on Friday downplayed its participation in the upcoming meeting in Pakistan to discuss issues relating to sharing of Indus river water, saying it does not amount to resumption of government-level Indo-Pak talks.
Declaring that "blood and water cannot flow together", Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting in September to review the treaty in the backdrop of the terror strikes, including the Uri attack. After the meeting, officials had announced that the government has decided to suspend further talks and increase the utilisation of rivers flowing through J&K to fully exercise India's rights under the pact.