Indus Water Treaty

Over the past week, Indus Water Treaty has been in NEWS. This is a detailed article on the same.

Indus Water Treaty: The Background

At the time of independence, the boundary line between Pakistan and India was drawn across the Indus Basin, leaving Pakistan as the lower riparian meaning water from Indus & tributaries flowed from India to Pakistan. Moreover, two important irrigation head works, one at Madhopur on Ravi River and the other at Ferozepur on Sutlej River, on which the irrigation canal supplies in Punjab (Pakistan) were completely dependent, were left in the Indian territory. Pakistan felt its livelihood threatened by the prospect of Indian control over the tributaries that fed water into the Pakistani portion of the basin. A dispute thus arose between two countries regarding the utilization water from existing facilities and future flow of water.

Pakistan wanted to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, but India refused, arguing that the conflict required a bilateral resolution. Finally, both India & Pakistan agreed to idea of The World Bank, negotiating agency.indus-water-treaty

Eventually, on 19th September, 1960, Indus Water Treaty was signed at Karachi by Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Indian Prime Minister and Mr. W.A.B. Illif of the World Bank .

While, Indus originates from Tibet, China is has been kept out of Indus Water Treaty.

Indus Water Treaty: Brief Provisions

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) deals with river Indus and its five tributaries, which were classified into 2 categories:indus1

  • Eastern rivers:
    • Sutlej
    • Beas
    • Ravi
  • Western rivers:
    • Jhelum
    • Chenab
    • Indus
  • The treaty gives India exclusive use of all of the waters of the Eastern Rivers and their tributaries before the point where the rivers enter Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan was given exclusive use of the Western Rivers.
  • Under the treaty, India was under the obligation to let flow the waters of the Western Rivers except for the following uses: (a) Domestic Use, (b) Non-consumptive use, (c) Agricultural (d) Generation of hydro-electric power as specified.
  • Further, India was also permitted to construct storage of water on Western Rivers upto 3.6 MAF for various purposes. (India  has not fully utilized this provision so far).
  • Overall treaty allocated 80% of water from the six-river Indus System to Pakistan.
  • For 20% water that it lost fro Eastern Rivers, Pakistan also received one‐time financial compensation.
  • A Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. India and Pakistan each created a permanent post of Commissioner for Indus Waters.

Disputes Subsequent to Indus Water Treaty

Though majority of dispute of Indus Waters was settled with treaty, however, given the ephemeral relations between the countries, one or other controversies keep appearing up.

Tulbul Project:

  • The Tulbul Project is a “navigation lock‐cum‐control structure” at the mouth of Wular Lake.
  • Pakistan objected that the it violated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty.
  • India unilaterally suspended the Tulbul project

Balighar Dam Project 

  • Baglihar Dam, also known as Baglihar Hydroelectric Power Project, is a run‐of‐the‐river power project on the Chenab River in the southern Doda district of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • After construction began in 1999, Pakistan claimed that design parameters of Baglihar project violated the Indus Water Treaty of 1960.
  • On June 1, 2010 India and Pakistan resolved the issue relating to the initial filling of Baglihar dam in Jammu and Kashmir with the neighbouring country deciding not to raise the matter further.

Kishanganga Dispute

  • The 330 MW Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project is located on the Kishanganga River, a tributary of Jhelum.
  • In 2010, Pakistan appealed to the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (CoA), complaining that the Kishanganga Hydroelectric Plant violates the Indus River Treaty by increasing the catchment of the Jhelum River and depriving Pakistan of its water rights.
  • The International Court of Arbitration gave its “final award” on 20 December 2013, wherein it allowed India to go ahead with project. However, India was asked to maintain  9 m3/s of natural flow of water in Kishanganga river at all times to maintain the environment downstream.

Sir Creek Dispute

  • The Sir Creek is a 96 km strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands.
  • The long‐standing dispute hinges in the actual demarcation “from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek, and from the top of Sir Creek eastward to a point on the line designated on the Western Terminus”
  • Without taking consent from India, Pakistan constructed Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project passing through the Great Rann of Kutch area (Gujarat, India) with the assistance from the world bank.

Why Indus Water Treaty in news?

  • Indus Water Treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water-sharing arrangement in the world today. For 56 years, both India and Pakistan are peacefully sharing the water of Indus and its tributaries, thanks to The Indus Water Treaty (IWT).
  • The treaty came into NEWS again recently when, after the Uri cross-border attack by Pakistan in 2016,  PM Narendra Modi had said “Blood and Water cannot flow simultaneously” , passively suggesting that India could disregard the treaty and stop flow of water to Pakistan.

Can India stop flow of Indus River Water?

India can think of considering such option but only after planning & years of implementation. Stopping of water would first need storing of water and currently India stores only 4% of the allocated 20%, India has to increase its storing capacity. Secondly, alternate route of water has also to be developed. Secondly, storing & diversion of water can have significant ecological consequences in India itself. Besides the obvious logistic reason, there also other major reasons that block India to take this route:

Role of China:

  • India’s aggressive action may be followed by China, who can block water to north-eastern states
  • Further, Indus originates from Tibet in China. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan.

1969 Vienna Convention

  • Even if India wants to go about abrogating it, the country should abide by the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties.

Harm to International Reputation:

  • Not respecting the treaty, may invite global condemnation to India as the treaty is an international agreement. At present India is on a moral high ground vis-a-vis Pakistan after the Uri attack. This would be lost if India doesn’t follow the deal. Such decision by India would automatically bring World bank in the picture and in support of Pakistan.

Indus Water Treaty Conclusion:

The Kashmir issue will get a whole new dimension if India withdraws from the treaty. Not only this, it would trigger the formal beginning of water wars, which experts like Chellaney have been predicting for long. Moreover, it is unlike that Pakistan would mend its ways under Indian pressure of Indus water. The will also be spillover impacts India’s withdrawal of the treaty in other countries and India’s aspirational goals like Permanent Seat in UNSC.

India has never used our rights on the western rivers. The approach of government should be to utilize provisions available in Indus Water Treaty itself and pressurize Pakistan within dimensions of treaty.




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