Editorial : Water concerns - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/01/water-concerns.html

A GOVERNMENT which never tires of talking about better governance has been caught napping yet again. According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, the government has ordered three ‘investigations’ into how India was able to secure international credit incentives from the UN for the construction of two hydropower projects on Indus River tributaries in the disputed region of Kashmir. This despite what some officials here believe is the illegal nature of the hydropower projects. As usual, a pass-the-buck mentality has various ministries squabbling over who is to blame for the fiasco. But when it takes the government over seven months to simply reach a conclusion that further ‘investigations’ are necessary — a report in this newspaper last July first called attention to the issue — it would appear that yet again an all-round failure of the government has hurt the country’s interests.

There are many layers of questions here. For the UN agency in question to grant the carbon incentives to the Chutak and Nimoo-Bazgo hydropower projects, it appears trans-boundary environmental impact assessments were a prerequisite. It remains an open question whether some official here produced a favourable environmental assessment report for projects that other arms of the state believe are illegal under the Indus Waters Treaty. So were the necessary permissions granted? And if they were, how was that possible when some officials and departments believe the Indian projects are illegal? If that sounds preposterous, the alternative is that perhaps the UN agency dropped the ball and issued carbon credits in contravention of its own rules. But even there, a Pakistani official is in charge of the committee which oversees such carbon credits. So, surely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have alerted other ministries about the problem or at the very least tried to use its own representative leading the UN committee to take up the matter at the UN. In any case, for projects that were started in 2005 and for which carbon credits were granted in 2008, why has it taken the Government of Pakistan until February 2011 to wake up to the need for an inter-ministerial investigation? The ineptitude is breathtaking.

Here’s what is at stake. The recently released report by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on water in South and Central Asia contains this comment about the “33 projects at various stages of completion” India has on rivers it shares with Pakistan: “the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season.” Is anyone in the government here listening? Do they even care?

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