Indus Water Treaty- Significance and Concerns-Explained Pointwise

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Indus Water Treaty negotiated in 1960 between India and Pakistan is a landmark transboundary water-sharing mechanism. However, disagreements have persisted among both India and Pakistan over the treaty.

India had called for amendments in the treaty last year due to its dissatisfaction over the dispute resolution process, blaming Pakistan’s continued ‘intransigence‘ in implementing the treaty. Pakistan has also raised objections regarding India’s construction of Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects.

This calls for an analysis of the provisions of the Indus Water treaty, the associated concerns and the Way Forward to address these concerns.

Indus Water Treaty
Created By Forum IAS
Table of Content
What is the History behind the Introduction of the Indus Water Treaty? What are its main Provisions?
What has been the significance of the Indus Water Treaty?
What are the concerns with the Indus Water Treaty?
What are the Concerns with the termination or abrogation of the IWT?
What Should be the Way Forward?

What is the History behind the introduction of the Indus Water Treaty? What are its main provisions?

History Behind the Indus Water Treaty

Pre IndependencePreceding partition, the six rivers of the Indus basin, which originated in the Himalayas/Tibet (Indus, Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Jhelum and Chenab) was a common network, for both India and Pakistan.
At the Time of PartitionThe partition of India raised questions about the distribution of water between the two nations. Since the rivers flowed from India, Pakistan felt threatened by the prospect of control of river waters by India.
Inter-Dominion accord (May 4, 1948)The Inter-Dominion accord of May 4, 1948 laid out that India would release enough water to Pakistan in return for annual payments (by Pakistan). However, the problems of this arrangement were soon realized and it was considered necessary to find an alternative solution.
Indus Water Treaty 1960India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty with the intervention of the World Bank in 1960. Precise details were laid out regarding the way in which the waters would be distributed.

Main Provisions of the Indus Water Treaty

Eastern Rivers with IndiaUnder the Indus treaty, all the waters of 3 eastern rivers namely Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas (with a mean annual flow of 33 Million Acre-feet (MAF)) were allocated to India for exclusive use.
Western Rivers with PakistanPakistan gets control of 3 Western Rivers (Chenab, Indus and Jhelum) with a mean annual flow of 80 Million Acre-feet (MAF).
Western River Water utilization permitted for IndiaThe Indus River treaty allows India to utilize the waters of Western Rivers for
a. Limited irrigation use
b. Non-consumptive use– For
applications such as power generation, navigation etc. This, allows India to generate hydroelectricity through a run-of-the-river projects (without the storage of waters) on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design and operation.
c. Storage level permitted- India can store up to 3.75 MAF of water of the Western Rivers for conservation and flood storage purposes.
Water Division RatioThe Indus Water treaty gives India 20% of the water from the Indus River System and the rest 80% of the water to Pakistan.
Dispute Resolution MechanismThe Indus Water Treaty provides a three step dispute resolution mechanism.
a. Permanent Commission- The disputes of the parties can be resolved at the Permanent Commission, or can also be taken up at the inter-government level.
b. Neutral Expert (NE)- In case of unresolved questions or ‘differences’ between the countries on water-sharing, such as technical differences, either side can approach the World Bank to appoint a Neutral Expert (NE) to come to a decision.
c. Court of Arbitration- If either party is not satisfied with the Neutral Expert’s decision or in case ofdisputes’ in the interpretation and extent of the treaty, matters can be referred to a Court of Arbitration.

What has been the significance of the Indus Water Treaty?

The Indus Waters Treaty has been largely successful in maintaining water cooperation between India and Pakistan for over 60 years, despite periods of political tensions and conflict between the two countries.

1. Only cross border water sharing treaty in Asia- The Indus water Treaty is the only cross border water sharing treaty between two nations in Asia.

2. Generous towards lower riparian state- It is the only water pact that compels an upper riparian state to defer to the interests of a downstream state. Pakistan has been given 80% share in the river water system. This is 90 times greater volume of water than Mexico’s share under a 1944 pact with the US.

3. Passed the Crisis test- The Permanent Commission set up as a part of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism under the treaty has met even during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.

4. India’s Generosity- India’s respect for the values trans-boundary river treaty is also a major factor behind the successful functioning of the treaty. India chose not to invoke the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to withdraw from the Indus Water Treaty in the face of terror attacks like Indian Parliament in 2001, Mumbai in 2008, Uri in 2016 and Pulwama in 2019. 

5. Successful Model- The Indus Water Treaty serves as a successful model of cooperation between two rival countries.

What are the concerns with the Indus Water Treaty?

India’s Concerns

1. Most Generous treaty- Experts have termed this the most generous water sharing treaty. The treaty has resulted in unequal sharing of the waters with 80% allotment to Pakistan. It is the only water-sharing pact in the world that compels upper riparian State to defer to the interests of the downstream State.

2. Prevents India from building any storage systems on Western Rivers-  Despite the Indus water treaty providing for certain exceptional circumstances for building storage systems on Western Flowing Rivers, Pakistan has deliberately stopped such efforts. The extensively technical nature of the treaty allows Pakistan to stall legitimate Indian Projects.

3. Dispute over India’s Hydroelectric Projects- In recent times disputes over the Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects have intensified, with Pakistan directly seeking arbitration at The Hague, bypassing treaty-compliant proceedings.

4. Climate Change Impact- The Indus basin, which has been ranked as the world’s second most over-stressed aquifer by NASA in 2015, has been severely affected by climate change. India seeks renegotiation and amendments to the treaty for sustaining its burgeoning population.

5. Loss to Indian States in the Indus Basin- There have been substantial economic losses to the Indian States in the Indus River Basin. For ex- According to J&K Govt’s hired consultant report, J&K has been suffering economic losses to the tune of hundred of millions annually due to the Indus Water Treaty.

Pakistan’s Concerns

1. Lower Riparian Concerns- As a lower riparian state, Pakistan fears infrastructure developments will reduce downstream flows.

2. Accusations of ‘Water Terrorism’- Pakistan accused India of “water terrorism” for the Shahpurkandi barrage project, despite the project’s compliance with the IWT.

3. Environmental Flow Issues- Pakistan insists on maintaining environmental flows, supported by the 2013 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on India’s obligation to release flows downstream of the Kishanganga project.

Read More- Need to amend the Indus Waters Treaty

What are the Concerns with the termination or abrogation of the IWT?

Renegotiating or abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan could have serious consequences for the region:

1. Escalation of Geopolitical Tensions- Attempts at renegotiating the treaty or abrogation of the treaty is likely to escalate political tensions between India and Pakistan. This might heighten the risk of water conflicts between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

2. Threat to Regional Stability- The Indus river basin is shared by India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. Instability in the IWT could have ripple effects on water cooperation in the wider region.

3. Damage to India’s International Standing- Unilaterally suspending or withdrawing from the IWT could damage India’s image as a responsible global power. It may be a setback for future negotiations of water treaties, like the Teesta Water Treaty with countries like Bangladesh.

What Should be the Way Forward?

1. Integration of Ecological Perspectives- The ecological perspectives must incorporate Environmental Flows (EF) to sustain the Indus Valley ecosystems, as suggested by the Brisbane Declaration and the 2013 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on Kishanganga.

2. Recognisation of Climate Change Impacts- Strategies must be developed to manage climate change effects. India should explore the possibility of using climate change as a ‘change in circumstances’ to initiate conversation on renegotiation of the IWT.

3. Enhanced Water Data-Sharing- A World Bank-supervised, legally binding data-sharing framework should be established to monitor water quality and flow changes. Such estimates would add to the accuracy of each side’s dependence on the other in sharing the waters of these rivers.

4. Incorporation of International Legal Standards- The treaty provisions must be aligned with the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention and the 2004 Berlin Rules on Water Resources for sustainable water use.

5. Pro activeness on India’s Part in utilization of allocated water share- As suggested by the standing committee of water resources, the canal systems in Punjab and Rajasthan should be repaired to increase their water carrying capacity. Also, India should take steps to completely utilize its entitlement of waters of Western Rivers.

6. Use of pressure tactic in case of escalation- As suggested by some experts, in case of escalation of hostilities by Pakistan in future, India can suspend the meetings of Permanent Commission. If the first state of dispute redressal is not functional, the subsequent two steps of 3-tier dispute redressal don’t kick in.

Read More- The Indian Express
UPSC Syllabus- GS 2 India and its neighbourhood Relations
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