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Indus Water Treaty – Everything You Need To Know About It Amidst Indo-Pak Tensions

Indus Water Treaty – Everything You Need To Know About It Amidst Indo-Pak Tensions

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What is the Indus Water Treaty ?

  • The Indus Water Treaty is a water-sharing arrangement signed by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan on September 19, 1960, in Karachi.
  • It covers the water distribution and sharing rights of six rivers — Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. The agreement was brokered by the World Bank.
  • The treaty gave the three “eastern rivers” of Beas, Ravi and Sutlej to India for use of water without restriction. The three “western rivers” of Indus, Chenab and Jhelum were allocated to Pakistan.
  • India can construct storage facilities on “western rivers” of up to 3.6 million acre feet, which it has not done so far. India is also allowed agriculture use of 7 lakh acres above the irrigated cropped area as on April 1, 1960.

Why was the agreement signed ?

  • The agreement was signed because the source of all the rivers of the Indus basin were in India (Indus and Sutlej, though, originate in China). It allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise do’s and don’ts for India on building projects along the way.
  • Pakistan feared that India could potentially create droughts in case of a war between the two countries.
  • A Permanent Indus Commission set up in this connection has gone through three wars between the two countries without disruption and provides a bilateral mechanism for consultation and conflict-resolution through inspections, exchange of data and visits.

The Dispute

  • Although the two countries have been managing to share the waters without major dispute, experts say that the agreement is one of the most lop-sided with India being allowed to use only 20 percent of the six-river Indus water system.
  • Pakistan itself in July this year sought an international arbitration if India sought to build hydro power projects on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers.
  • Though the agreement has been seen as one of the most successful water-sharing pacts, the current tension between the two South Asian neighbours might well lead to a flashpoint. Strategic affairs and security experts say that future wars could well be fought over water.

Could India do away with the agreement ?

This is unlikely since the treaty has survived three wars between the two countries. Although on Thursday India raised the issue, saying that for a treaty to work there had to be “mutual cooperation and trust” between the two sides, this seems to be more pressure tactics than any real threat to review the bilateral agreement. And the idea that India can intimidate Pakistan by threatening to cut of river waters is nothing new. It has arisen before every major conflict. A unilateral abrogation would also attract criticism from world powers, as this is one arrangement which has stood the test of time.

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River expert and environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) agrees with such an option. India has been permitted to construct storage of water on western rivers up to 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) for various purposes, but the country has, so far, not developed any storage facility.

Thakkar said, “We have never exercised our rights under the treaty as we have not created infrastructure on our side to use water of western rivers. We must, therefore, concentrate on building barrages and other storage facilities to use the water.”
Thakkar too found the idea of abrogating the treaty impractical. He said, “It will not solve any purpose. It won’t help India militarily. It will, instead, damage India’s credibility at international forums. We have treaties and water-sharing arrangements with other neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. Abrogation of treaty will certainly not send the right signal.”

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