The issue of the Wullar Barrage has been at the centre of a long drawn diplomatic stand off between India and Pakistan
In a first such admission, the J&K government has said it has started work on Wullar Barrage, a project that has been a bone of bitter contention between India and Pakistan. Though work on the project, which was attacked by militants in August earlier this year, has been going on for a long time, the government had then termed it as Jhelum Prevention Flood Control Scheme.
“Minister for Irrigation and Flood Control Taj Mohi-ud-Din informed the House that work on the construction of Wullar Barrage Project is in full swing,” a government statement said on Wednesday 11 October.
However, following the militant attack on the project in August, the state government had denied that the construction had anything to do with the barrage. “This is not Wullar Barrage. It is only an embankment under Jhelum Prevention Flood Control Scheme,” J&K’s minister for irrigation and flood control Taj Mohiudin had said. “We are not violating the Indus Water Treaty. And even under this treaty we have the right to store water. The condition is that we have to release it back into the river. This is what we are doing,” added the minister.
Now the government, for the first time, has described the project as ‘Wullar Barrage’. On 27 August, militants had stopped work on the scheme near Wullar Lake, India’s largest fresh water lake. They had hurled a grenade at the construction site and warned labourers against continuing their work.
The government has now said that the work on the project was stopped only for a brief period due to threats by some miscreants. “The work has been undertaken strictly under the provisions of the Indus-Water Treaty and there was no question of stopping its operation,” the government statement said. “To restore the confidence of the executing agency and workforce, the government has ensured adequate security on the site and work is going smoothly.”
The Wullar Barrage project was conceived in 1984 by the Indian government and was meant to be constructed on the River Jhelum at the mouth of Wullar Lake. However, Pakistan, which terms the barrage as Tulbul Navigation Project, objected to it saying the project was a violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. India’s contention is that the barrage would make the Jhelum navigable during summer, but Islamabad thinks it will be used by India to control the river’s flow.
Pakistan took the case to Indus Waters Commission in 1986 but it didn’t resolve the issue. But before Pakistan could move the International Court of Arbitration, India stopped work on the barrage.
There have been 12 rounds of dialogue between the two countries to break the impasse since, but to no avail.
Work on the Wullar conservation started last year. The Union Ministry for Environment and Forests has already sanctioned Rs 386 crore for the project to restore the lake’s lost glory.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.