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Indus Water Treaty

Topics Covered:

  1. India and neighbourhood relations.


Indus Water Treaty


What to study?

  • For Prelims: Indus Water Treaty- key facts.
  • For Mains: Issues associated with the implementation of the treaty and their resolution, how bilateral tensions affect the treaty.


Context: In response to Pulwama terror attack, the Centre has decided to stop India’s share of water that used to flow to Pakistan. The government would divert water from eastern rivers to Jammu and Kashmir.

The government’s decision will not impact Pakistan’s share of water under the Indus Water Treaty between the two nations.


River sharing between India and Pakistan:

The sharing of water of the six rivers– Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej– between India and Pakistan is governed by a treaty the two countries signed in 1960. The deal was brokered by the World Bank after nine years of negotiation.

Under the treaty, India has control over water flowing in the eastern rivers– Beas, Ravi and Sutlej. Pakistan has control over the western rivers– Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.

As per the treaty, the water commissioners of Pakistan and India are required to meet twice a year and arrange technical visits to projects’ sites and critical river head works. Both the sides share details of the water flow and the quantum of water being used under the treaty.

The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers.

Of the total 168 million acre-feet, India’s share of water from the three allotted rivers is 33 million acre-feet, which constitutes nearly 20 per cent. India uses nearly 93-94 per cent of its share under the Indus Waters Treaty. The rest of the water remains unutilised and goes to Pakistan.


Projects proposed to utilize the unutilised water:

After the Uri attack in 2016, India has fast-tracked water projects to arrest the unutilised water. The three projects include the Shahpur-Kandi dam project, a second Sutlej-Beas link in Punjab and the UJH Dam project in Jammu and Kashmir.


Pakistan’s water woes:

An IMF study said that Pakistan is the third most affected country in the world in terms of acute water shortage. Closing the taps is likely to send a strong message that Pakistan cannot continue to perpetrate terrorism from its soil with impunity.


Why it may not be feasible to stop water- flow altogether?

So far the treaty has survived wars and phases of frosty ties between India and Pakistan. India’s any move affecting the treaty would be closely watched by the international community. India cannot abrogate the treaty on a short notice. It takes years to divert the flow of a river. The government of India will have to prepare a long-term strategy if it intends to threaten Pakistan by diverting or stopping the water.


Challenges and concerns:

The IWT has survived various wars and other hostilities between the two countries, and as such it is largely considered a success. Today, however, the treaty is increasingly faced with challenges it wasn’t designed to deal with.

  1. For instance, India recently fast-tracked approval for several major dams along the Chenab, a 900km-long tributary of the Indus that was originally allotted to Pakistan under the IWT. This follows several other contentious dams already being built on shared rivers including Kishanganga, on the Jhelum River, which was also allotted to Pakistan.
  2. Under the IWT, India does indeed have a right to “limited hydropower generation” upstream on the western tributaries allotted to Pakistan, including the Chenab and the Jhelum. However, many in Pakistan worry that even though these proposed dams may individually abide by the technical letter of the treaty, their effects will add up downstream.
  3. Because the treaty does not provide a definitive solution, the two countries have frequently sought time-consuming and expensive international arbitration. From time to time, Pakistan has raised concerns and asked for intervention on the storage capacity of Indian dams planned on shared rivers allotted to Pakistan under the IWT.
  4. Basin countries have also not been forthcoming in sharing data and announcing planned hydropower projects ahead of time.


Sources: the hindu.

Mains Question: It is argued that a review of the Indus Water Treaty could prove to be a double-edged sword for India. Discuss why.