The last such meeting between the two countries was in October in Islamabad.

India has refused a request by Pakistan to hold a meeting on issues around the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) at the Attari checkpost near the India-Pakistan border. In March India had suggested a virtual conference but Pakistan had insisted on a physical meeting, a senior official in the Ministry of Water Resources told The Hindu on Sunday.

“Because of restrictions on movement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, travelling to the border for a meeting isn’t advisable,” the official added.

The last such meeting between the two countries was in October in Islamabad, and, as per the agreement in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a meeting was to be scheduled in India before March 31.

The practice at the IWT meetings is that they are led by Indus Water Commissioners from both countries and a range of issues on construction of dams and hydropower projects concerning the Indus river system are discussed.

However the COVID-19 pandemic led to the meeting being cancelled and this was followed up by discussions between representatives of the two countries on how discussions could be conducted.

Among the key points on the table was evolving a procedure to solve differences on technical aspects governing the construction of the Ratle run-of-the-river (RoR) project on the Chenab in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir.

India has called for the appointment of a ‘neutral’ party while Pakistan favours a Court of Arbitration to agree upon a final resolution on the design parameters of this hydropower project.

According to the terms of the IWT, India has the right to build RoR projects on the three ‘western’ rivers — the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus — provided it does so without substantially impeding water flow in Pakistan downstream. Pakistan believes that the project’s current design does pose a serious impediment and has told the World Bank that it wants a Court of Arbitration (CoA) set up to decide on the issue. India says this is only a technical issue and mutually solvable. It has agreed to a ‘neutral party’ since a CoA potentially could stall any form of construction on all Indus projects, the official said.

The IWT has been in existence since 1960, and reached a flash point in the aftermath of the Uri attacks in 2016 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that “blood and water couldn’t flow together” and India would utilise the full hydropower capacity of its share of the Indus river systems.

While tensions cooled down and the suspended IWT talks resumed, former Union water minister Nitin Gadkari said on February 2019 that India would be exploring ‘technical’ ways to diminish the flow of water into Pakistan and this reportedly prompted a closer look on matters governing design parameters of the Ratle project.

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