Mains 2016 Initiative


The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) is a treaty of water-distribution between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan. Presently, there is a hot debate about whether India should revoke the treaty or not?

Some key facts about the flow route of the Indus:


  • The source of the Indus River is in Tibet (China) and then it flows northwest through Ladakh and Baltistan into Gilgit.
  • The Indus then flows onto the dry Punjab plains of Pakistan and becomes a broad, slow-moving, silt-laden stream. There it receives the combined waters of the five rivers of the Punjab-Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.
  • In Pakistan the Indus is extensively used for irrigation and hydroelectric-power generation.
  • The river supports many heavy industries in Pakistan and also serves as the main source of drinking water for the people of this region.

Why there was need of IWT:

  • Since the partition of India, both the countries were on the threshold of war over Kashmir. There seemed to be no possibility of negotiation on this issue.
  • One way to reduce hostility was to concentrate on other important issues where cooperation was possible. This would bring both countries together on a single important issue.
  • Accordingly, David Lilienthal, formerly the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, proposed that India and Pakistan together should work out a program for the Indus river basin system, upon which both nations were dependent for irrigation water.
  • Moreover, the Indus river system generates on the Indian side. So Pakistan felt that India could tamper the flow of the river. This had the potential of becoming another bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Hence, the treaty was all the more necessary.

What is the treaty?

  • According to this treaty, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, which constitute the eastern rivers, are allocated for exclusive use to India (before they enter Pakistan).
  • A transition period of 10 years was permitted in which India had to supply water to Pakistan from these rivers until Pakistan was able to build a canal system for utilization of waters of Jhelum, Chenab and the Indus.
  • Similarly, Pakistan was given exclusive rights to use the western rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Indus.
  • Pakistan also received one-time financial compensation for the loss of water from the eastern rivers.
  • Since March 31, 1970, after the 10-years span, India has its full rights over the three rivers allocated to it.


Why the issue of “revoking” the treaty:

  • Recently after Uri attack (2016), our present prime minister said, “Blood and water can’t flow together” Some politicians of India take the meaning of this sentence as “revoking of the IWT”.
  • In September 2016, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India challenging the validity of the treaty as it was signed by the Prime minister of India who is not the head of the Indian republic. The President of India is the official head of the state.
  • The wave of public sentiments after the Uri attacks has made “revoking this treaty” a new option of sending a strong message to Pakistan.
  • The Indus river system covers almost 65% of land in Pakistan. Pakistan is dependent on it for its irrigation, consumption, industrial and development purposes. Thus, revoking the treaty would affect Pakistan badly.
  • Besides, a large section of Indians feel the treaty has been unfair to India and way too generous to Pakistan.
  • Under this treaty –135-140 MAF of water goes to Pakistan.Only 34 MAF of water goes to India.This is because the western rivers – Indus, Chenub and Jhelum – flowing in Pakistan have far more volume of water than the eastern rivers – Ravi, Beas and Sutlej – flowing in India.
  • Moreover, the eastern rivers are not sufficient to meet the needs of states like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • The Indus river system also provides huge scope for hydro-power generation. But Pakistan has never failed to protest the building of any projects by India on the Indian side of the river system. Like the Kishanganga and Baglihar projects. This hampers development in energy deficient state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Why this treaty should not be revoked:

  • A handful of strategic interlocutors in India strongly recommended revoking the IWT as part of coercive diplomacy.
  • Firstly, scrapping the IWT unilaterally is not an option, as Articles 9-12 of the treaty clearly mentions that India or Pakistan unilaterally cannot revoke it.
  • Secondly, revoking this treaty could worsen the already deteriorating relations between India-Pakistan. It could also give another reason to terrorists to plan further attacks on our country.
  • Thirdly, given the China-Pakistan affinity, revoking this treaty could trigger China to take drastic steps like tampering the flow of Indus or Brahmaputra – both rivers originate in China – towards India.
  • Fourthly, if India wants to revoke the treaty then India must take international opinion from different countries like USA, Canada, Germany, UK, Australia, who had contributed to the Indus basin development fund.
  • Fifthly, if India revoked the treaty then it could send a wrong message to the neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal in respect of existing water development treaties with these countries.


We should not use water as a political weapon. The idea of water as a weapon has its own limitation. As, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye, will make the world blind”.
Besides, this treaty has survived through various troubled phases of Indo-Pak relations. It can be used as a leverage to better the relationship between the two countries.
The middle path would be reviewing the IWT from time to time with the consent of both the nations.


1. A journal- South Asian Voices, Mrs. Kishwar munir, Revoking the Indus water treaty: India and Pakistan’s options, October 7, 2016.
2. The Hindu Newspaper, Internet desk, 10 things to know about Indus water treaty, September 26, 2016.

This Article is a part of ForumIAS Mains 2016 Initiative. For a list of all articles that will be published on ForumIAS Portal for Mains visit


Print Friendly