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Indo-Pak Indus Water Treaty - A Review

Published on Friday, September 30, 2016
The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) was signed in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1960 as an agreement between then Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Ayub Khan of Pakistan. It has come to light again following the dastardly terrorist attack at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, as India seeks to revisit the treaty and review its dos and don'ts that seem to be lopsided against India.

What is Indo-Pak Indus Water Treaty?
The Indus Water Treaty allocates waters of the eastern rivers of Indus, i.e. Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and their tributaries to India and the water of western rivers, i.e. Indus, Jhelum and Chenab and their tributaries to Pakistan.

Facts about Indo-Pak Water Treaty:

The Indus Water Treaty is the most generous treaty of the world where the upper riparian state (India) has allowed the lower riparian state (Pakistan), the right to use 81.5% of the Indus water. 90% of Pakistan’s water resource comes from Indus and 65% of its complete irrigated landmass is using Indus water.

Pakistan has built vast irrigation network including the Tarbela Dam on Indus and the Mangla Dam on Jhelum in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

As per the provisions of the treaty, India is allowed to construct storage facilities on western rivers up to 3.6 MAF (million acre feet) and is permitted to agricultural use of 7 lakh acres over and above the irrigated cropped area as on 1st April, 1960.

Further, as per the treaty obligations, India is required to give Pakistan all information pertaining to its storage and hydroelectric projects using the waters of the western water.

Pakistan had used the provision of approaching the International Court of Arbitration to resolve dispute on two earlier occasions for Baglihar and Kishenganga hydel projects constructed by India in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Pakistan contended that the Baglihar dam includes gated spillways, which translated to manipulable storage larger than what was allowed.

Besides the above, another serious dispute that arose during the 1970s was regarding the Salal Hydro-Electric Project in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It was resolved after several rounds of negotiation. This was followed by a dispute regarding Tulbul Navigation Project, which still remains unresolved.

In 2003 Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state assembly passed a unanimous resolution for the abrogation of the treaty and again in June 2016, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly demanded for revision of the Indus Water Treaty. The legislators feel that the treaty trampled upon the rights of the people and treats the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a non-entity.

10 Points You Need To Know:

i) The Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan's President Ayub Khan.
ii) It was brokered by the World Bank.
iii) The treaty administers how river Indus and its tributaries that flow in both the countries will be utilised.
iv) According to the treaty, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are to be governed by India, while, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are to be taken care by Pakistan.
v) However, since Indus flows from India, the country is allowed to use 20 per cent of its water for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes.
vi) A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing.
vii) The Treaty also provides arbitration mechanism to solve disputes amicably.
viii) Though Indus originates from Tibet, China has been kept out of the Treaty. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan.
ix) Climate change is causing melting of ice in Tibetan plateau, which scientists believe will affect the river in future.
x) It may be noted that both India and Pakistan are still at loggerheads over various issues since Partition, but there has been no fight over water after the Treaty was ratified.

Critical Analysis of Abrogating the Indus Water Treaty:

  1. Pakistan being an agrarian economy, its well being is largely dependent on the export of agro commodities.
  2. Pakistan is the world’s third largest exporter of rice and fourth largest exporter of cotton. Both these crops are highly water intensive, and so, pulling the Indus water tap can have very major socio-economic repercussion for Pakistan.
  3. However, this act of India will earn the ire of 200 million population of Pakistan and the people to people hatred will only grow.
  4. Since, 1960, India has being able to develop only 2.7 lakh acres of agricultural land as against 7 lakh permitted under the treaty and has been able to create a storage facility of only 0.5 MAF (million acre feet) as against 3.6 MAF (million acre feet) allowed under the treaty.
  5. Thus, it needs to be understood that creating such mega facilities requires technical feasibility and financial viability. Besides, controlling or diverting the natural flow of water may result in floods in Jammu and Punjab.
  6. Moreover, India cannot afford to inundate fertile agricultural land of Punjab and Jammu region by blocking the flow of these rivers.
  7. Another major flip side to the issue could be that China, with its access of better technology and wherewithal can quote India’s actions with respect to the Indus Water Treaty and control the flow of Brahmaputra, being an upper riparian state.
  8. Finally, one needs to understand that with the existing capabilities and structures to retain or divert waters of western rivers, India can only inflict limited hardship on Pakistan.


The abrogation of the Indus Water Treaty will be more of a symbolic gesture, because to build the desired infrastructure for storage on the western rivers India will need a couple of decades, if we begin today.

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