ISLAMABAD - Terming water a matter of life and death for the people, Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Friday vowed to protect Pakistan’s rights, warning the country might face a famine in next 10 to 15 years if appropriate steps were not taken in this regard. 

“Pakistan and India are facing a severe tension over controversial water projects, including Kishenganga, Ratle, Miyar, Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects, Wullar Barrage and Tulbul navigation project,” said Khawaja Asif while talking to media persons. He said the government would implement the Indus Water Treaty despite having reservations as water was an issue of life and death for the people of Pakistan.

The federal minister said the water treaty signed with India was not judiciously distributing water as Pakistan’s population was around 30-40 million at the time of signing the treaty, but now it had increased to 190 million. Talking about construction of new dams, Khawaja Asif said the government had started work on Diamer Bhasha and Dasu dams simultaneously to overcome the power crisis.

He warned that Pakistan might become a water-starved country in future; so the people should wisely use water in their homes and in the agricultural sector. To a question‚ the minister claimed that the electricity situation was improving in the country. He said there was a need to evolve a consensus on the water issue so rights of the country could be defended vigorously.

Earlier‚ Water and Power Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif was given a briefing on the water situation and the Indus Basin Treaty by Commissioner for Indus Water Mirza Asif Baig and Secretary Saifullah Chattha.

It was stated in the briefing that funding options were available for the two hydel projects. Rs 21 billion have already been spent on Diamer Dam and land acquisition for it has been completed, it was revealed.

Water and Power Secretary Saifullah Chattha said India had been trying to get water in excess of the limit it was allowed under the Indus Basin Treaty.

Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Water Mirza Asif Baig said he had raised its objections over several water issues at Permanent Indus Commission that would be discussed in December this year. He added that the objections included placement of spillway of Ratle Hydroelectric Plant of 850 megawatts, Miyar Hydroelectric Plant of 120 megawatts, Lower Kalnai plant of 48 megawatts and Pakal Dul Hydroelectric Plant of 1,000 megawatts located on the River Chenab.

Similarly, Asif Baig said, India would give additional technical data to Pakistan regarding Wullar Barrage. Pakistan had raised the objection that India was not allowed storage on the main Jhelum and the work on the project has been suspended since 1987, he said and added it was last verified on May 30, 2013.

The Indus water commissioner said the dispute regarding the proposed diversion of Neelum water by India and drawdown of the dead storage level was referred to the International Court of Arbitration.

The commissioner said the final hearing of International Court of Arbitration concluded on August 31, 2012, and partial award of the court was awarded on February 18, 2013. The court decided the first question of diversion in favour of India and the second question of the drawdown in storage level in Pakistan’s favour, he told the minister.

“Both the parties will have to submit an additional data and written submissions to the International Court of Arbitration which will decide the quantum of water to be released below Kishenganga Hydroelectric Plant on the Neelum River as environmental releases,” he said. “The final award of the court is expected by December 2013,” he noted. These objections were discussed at two meetings of the Permanent Indus Commission in March and September and will finally be discussed at the next meeting of the commission likely to be held in December this year. Pakistan and India are members of the Commission.

“Another disputed project is Wullar Barrage and during the 6th round of secretaries-level talks, it was agreed that the Indian side would provide additional technical data to Pakistan and we will examine the data to prepare for the next round of the talks,” he said.

The minister was further told that the Indus Water Treaty contains provisions allowing India and Pakistan to establish river-run power projects with limited reservoir capacity and flow control needed for feasible power generation.

Under the treaty, all the water of the eastern rivers of Pakistan is available for the unrestricted use of India. Pakistan was allowed limited use for 45,000 acres of land from tributaries of the River Ravi whereas the country should have the right of unrestricted use of all the water from the western rivers, the minister was further briefed.