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Delhi dams role of Australian expert

Washington, May 11: India put its foot down on the choice of World Bank’s “neutral expert” on the Baglihar dam dispute with Pakistan and prevented a second water dispute from being referred for third party mediation, it is learnt.

The World Bank, a signatory to the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, yesterday named Professor Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss national, civil engineer and professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, to address Indo-Pak differences on Baglihar and make his “final and binding” determination on them.

The bank, it is understood, proposed three names of neutral experts to New Delhi and Islamabad: Lafitte, Donald Blackmore of Australia and Barazilian engineer Fransico Gomide. Pakistan was unenthusiastic about Gomide.

India vehemently objected to Blackmore, according to sources in New Delhi, Washington and Islamabad, dealing with Pakistan’s decision to jettison bilateral talks with India and seek World Bank intervention on Baglihar.

New Delhi’s objections to the Australian stemmed primarily from his association with the World Commission on Dams (WCD), a 12-member international group based in South Africa, which was prevented by the Indian government from holding its meeting in India shortly after it was constituted seven years ago.

India barred the group’s meeting because WCD, set up to minimise the impact of global dams on local communities, was seen as heavily influenced by anti-dam lobbyists and non-governmental organisations supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Anti-Sardar Sarovar activist Medha Patkar and L.C. Jain, former high commissioner to South Africa, are founding members of the commission.

The panel moved its meeting to Colombo, but the Indian government refused to send any official to its hearing on guidelines for dam-building in South Asia.

Blackmore is the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission in Australia, a river basin authority managing irrigation, hydropower, and natural resources. The vehemence of India’s objections to the Australian is said to have taken Pakistan by surprise.

Islamabad went back on an agreement ' that was not explicitly spelt out ' during President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to New Delhi last month that it would back out from seeking World Bank intervention on Baglihar and settle the dispute bilaterally with India.

That agreement followed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance to Musharraf during their meeting that India would favourably look at any genuine concern in Pakistan about the dam and make technical changes to assuage those worries.

Instead of honouring this agreement, Musharraf’s officials began sounding out about referring a second dam dispute, the 330-MW Kishenganga hydro-power project, to the World Bank after the general returned to Islamabad.

It is widely believed that Musharraf was persuaded to jettison bilateralism in order to set a precedent in third- party mediation so that Islamabad could make out a case for mediation on Kashmir in case bialteral talks with India eventually fail to produce results.

After New Delhi made it plain that it would spare no effort to protect its interests in the Indus Water Treaty by making hard choices about a neutral expert, Musharraf’s government this week agreed to settle the Kishenganga dispute bilaterally and set a deadline of July 15 for its resolution.

Lafitte, the bank’s choice agreed to by both India and Pakistan, is a former president of the International Hydropower Association, the world’s leading professional body to address needs of the hydro-engineering profession.

He was the keynote speaker at Water India-4, an international conference on water resources development, held in New Delhi last year.

Lafitte is a former member of the board of governors of the World Water Council, of which Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd is a member.

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