Indus Water Treaty: Need for a Fresh Look
Major General (Retd.) Ajay Kumar Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM

There was a deadly terrorist attack on 14 Feb on a CRPF Convoy near Awantipora in Pulwama District in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It was re-ported that in that incident 45 personnel died. Jaish-e-Mohammed; a UN designated terrorist organization, owned up the responsibility. Jaish-e-Mohammed is located in Bahawalpur of Pakistan and it is believed that it is nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan to execute terror-ist activities in India. Although the explosion was believed to have been caused by a Car filled with explosives and driven by a local Kashmiri youth but it had all the foot prints of ISI of Pakistan. Nation was outraged and the mood of the nation was to take revenge of the dastardly act.

On 15 May the PM of India, in a very firm message, said that the perpetrators of the terrorist act and their handlers will not be spared. He further added that the Armed Forces have been given free hand to deal with the situation. The Govt. of India, after an early morning Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting on the same day, decided to immediately take certain tough measures. Important ones among the many were; withdrawal of the Most fa-voured Nation (MMF) status to Pakistan ( later India imposed 200 per cent duty on items being imported from Pakistan), withdrawal of security to separatist leaders (in subsequent days the scope has been enlarged), make diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan and try to get Pakistan included in the Black List of Financial Action Task Force (FATF). These were initial decisions and as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) progressed in its investigations the complicity of Pakistan kept getting clearer and many more decisions to isolate Pakistan started getting taken. Simultaneously, troops on ground intensified their efforts to catch those who abetted the fedayeen attack. It is to the credit of the Army that within 100 hours the master mind as well as the expert who were believed to have helped in the fabrication of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) were gunned down. Later, punitive air action was also taken.

On 21 Feb 2019, Sri Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Water Resources, River Devel-opment and Ganga Rejuvenation, Govt. of India, in a series of tweets commu-nicated the decision that the Govt. had decided to stop waters from the East-ern Rivers (Beas, Sutlej and Ravi) from flowing into Pakistan. He further added that the water from Eastern Rivers would now be diverted and would be supplied to the people in J&K and Punjab.

In this context it is worth noting that as per the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960 signed between India and Pakistan and brokered by the World Bank, India was allocated waters from the Eastern Rivers for exclusive use of India. The average quantity of waters from these three rivers and their tributaries was assessed as 33 million acre feet (MAF). Pakistan was allocated waters from the Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) except for certain specified use by India for domestic non-consumptive agricultural use by the India. The average flow in these rivers was assessed to be 135 MAF. India also agreed to make fixed contribution of UK Pound Sterling 62,060,000 towards the cost of construction of new head-works and canal system for irrigation from Western Rivers in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

To exploit its share of waters from the Eastern Rivers, India constructed a number of major dams, namely, Bhakra and Nangal on Sutlej, Pong and Pandoh on Beas and Thein on Ravi River, and some works like Beas-Sutlej Link, Madhopur, Beas Link and Indira Gandhi Nehar Pariyojna (IGNP). These infrastructure helped India to exploit almost 95 per cent of its authorisation. However, about two MAF from Ravi has reportedly been flowing unutilised to Pakistan below Madhopur Head Works. India had planned three projects to harness these two MAF of water but somehow these had not progressed. Post Uri terrorist attack on an army camp in Sep 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, "Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously”. The Govt. then announced the suspension of talks of the Indus Water Commission. Consequently, a Task Force under the Chairmanship of Sri Nripendra Mishra was formed to review the works required to fully harness India’s share of water. One of the decisions of the Task Force was to fast-track the above mentioned three projects to block the unutilised water from flowing into Pakistan from the Eastern Rivers. The projects, announced in 2016, have recently been inaugurated. The details of these projects are as follows:-

a. Shahpur Kandi Project on Ravi River in Gurdaspur. The project is meant to utilise the waters coming out of the power house of the Thein Dam to irrigate 37,173 hectare of land in J&K and Punjab and generate 206 MW of power. The Shahpur Kandi Dam, an inter-state project, was approved by the Central Govt. as a ‘National Project’ in February 2008 at a cost of Rs 2,285.81 crore, including the irrigation component of Rs 653.97 crore. The work on the project commenced in 2013 but was halted in 2014 due to certain observations raised by the J & K Govt. Due to the delay, the cost of the project was revised to Rs 2,793.54 crore. The project will provide balancing reservoir to enable the upstream Ranjit Sagar Dam Project power station to act as a peaking station, besides having its own generation capacity of 206 MW and irrigation benefit of 37,173 hectare cultivable command area to Punjab and J&K states. The work has now again commenced by Punjab after necessary accord had been finalised between the two states. The project is being monitored by the Central Govt. The project will take three years to complete.1

b. Ujh Multipurpose Project. It will create a storage of about 780 Cubic Metres (CUM) of water on River Ujh, a tributary of Ravi, for irrigation and power generation. Feasibility approval at a cost of 5850 crores has been accorded in Jul 2017. It has been declared as a National Project. It will take six years for project to get completed.2 This is a prestigious project promising not only generating of 186 MW power but also irrigating 31380 hectares of parched land. It was really disheartening to note that this ambitious project was facing hiatuses and delays for as long as 17 years because of the unresponsive approach by the successive State Govts, perhaps, not underlining the immense importance to the respective States and a resultant boost to the economy on its commissioning. It is reported that the PM is likely to lay the foundation stone during his next visit to the states.3

c. Second Ravi-Beas Link. Till date, a large amount of water had been continuing to flow into Pakistan. No water from the Ravi was being used in India downstream of the Madhopur Headworks despite five tributaries of the Ravi — Basantar, Ujh, Tarnah, Bein and Devak — joining the River downstream of Madhopur. On the basis of a concept paper, the Govt. of India declared the Second Ravi-Beas Link project as a National Project in February 2008 at an estimated cost of 784 crores. As per the Central Water Commission (CWC) report presented in its sixth meeting on the issue in April 2012, an estimated 32 cubic metres per second, which worked out to be about 0.58 MAF, was flowing into Pakistan that could be used for irrigation within India.4 This project is located below River Ujh and it is meant to tap excess water flowing down to Pakistan through River Ravi even after construction of Thein Dam by constructing a barrage across River Ravi for diverting water through a tunnel to link to the Beas Basin.5 It however needs to be noted that these projects will not be able to help to stop the flow of water to Pakistan in immediate future. If all goes well and the Shahpur Kandi project gets completed as scheduled, reduction in the flow will commence after three years and total stoppage will be possible only after six years.

Once again, demand for abrogation of Indus Water Treaty has started gaining momentum. It needs to be examined whether it is possible or desirable or calls for a review due to changed environmental realities. That is indeed pos-sible because sharing of common resources happens only when both sides feel it is required and the arrangement evolved is fair and just. Although this treaty has withstood the test of time for last 58 years plus, however, both Pa-kistan as well as India feel it is unfair to them. Pakistan’s original demand was based on legacy rights while at that point India felt that division of resources should have been need based. But finally, India had agreed to the terms and conditions of the treaty though they were rather generous to Pakistan (almost 80 per cent of water being allocated to Pakistan and only about 20 per cent being allocated to India. In addition India also agreed to provide Pound Sterling sixty two million and sixty thousand only for construction of infrastructure on Western Rivers.)

Probably Indian leadership at that point thought that generosity on her part would help to redefine the relations between the two countries. On the con-trary, Pakistan accepted the treaty grudgingly. In this connection a statement of the then President of Pakistan Field Marshal Ayub Khan is quite significant. He said, “Every factor was against us. The only sensible thing to do was to try and get a settlement, even though it might be second best, because if we did not, we stood to lose everything. The very fact that Pak had to be content with waters of three Western Rivers underlined the importance of having physical control over the higher reaches for max utilisation of the growing needs of West Pakistan. In my mind, therefore, the only solution of the Kashmir issue acquired a sense of urgency on the conclusion of the Treaty urgency on the conclusion of the Treaty.” 6

Over a period of time certain flaws have been noticed in the treaty. Some of those areas where it is felt that the Treaty has its flaws are as follows:-

a. Increased urbanisation in the region from a population of 485 million in 1961 to 1.39 billion in 2011 has affected the demand.7 In fact water availability was 5000 cubic feet in West Punjab (Pakistan) in 1960 which has come down to 1500 cubic feet in 2016 during the same period water availability in East Punjab (India) came down from 6000 cubic feet to 1600 cubic feet8. During the same period the population of Pakistan rose from 50 million to 175 million.9 It was a double whammy for Pakistan because on one side the water availability has reduced and on the other side demand has grown. No wonder Pakistan is looking to grab more water than what is authorised to her as per the provisions of the IWT.

b. Impact of global warming is impacting availability of water and that is making ‘Rights versus Needs’ debate shriller. Regional climate change is re-ducing the flow in the rivers located in the Indus River Basin (IRB)10. It is anticipated that by 2040 River Indus is likely to become a seasonal river11. Because of global warming; consequent melting of glaciers and the melted glaciers flowing down from great heights of Himalaya bring tremendous amount of silt with them, the reservoirs at Tarbela, Trimmu and Mangla on Pakistan’s side and Salal on Indian side have substantially been silted and almost 25% of their holding capacity is now wasted.

c. While India tries to treat subjects of the State of J&K as part of India and their interests are taken care of whereas same is not true with respect to people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

d. Despite IRB being a monolithic geographical entity, the IWT crudely di-vided the five rivers from East and Indus along the longi-tudes12. Such a division does not lent itself for optimum utilisation of resources.

e. Highly technical engineering provisions coupled with a very complicat-ed dispute redressal mechanism of the treaty which Pakistan has been able to exploit to deny India development of infrastructure to utilise her share of water on Western rivers.

e. Treaty does not take into account that Indus and Sutlej originate in Ti-bet and that the Kabul River and its tributaries contributes almost 20-28 MAF of water into Indus Attock. In this connection following table is quite illustrative of the fact that Indus River Basin (IRB) spreads across not only India and Pakistan but also across Tibet Autonomous Region of China and Afghanistan.

Table-1: Indus River Basin Distribution13

In view of the above, while abrogation may not be the right option but it is definitely an opportune time to review the treaty because socio political en-vironment has substantially changed and also in hindsight it appears that the treaty was not balanced on more than one count. Neither it takes into account all the stake holders, nor it does justice to all those who depend on the waters available in the IRB. Pakistan raises no questions on the actions of China but questions India which in case of Indus and Sutlej is only a middle riparian. Afghanistan which contributes substantially to the flow in Indus but if that country decides to exploit its resources, instead of raising issues with her, Pakistan blames India even for that too.

It is a fact that Pakistan has a very less storage capacity (only 30 days as against the normal practice of 120 days world over)14. Out of 180 BCM Pakistan receives every year only 75 per cent reaches the canal head, and only 30 per cent reaches the crop due to leakage, seepage and evaporation.15 Similarly almost 38 MAF of water reaching Pa-kistan gets drained into sea.16 All this clearly brings out that Pakistan is not doing enough to exploit what the current Treaty gives her, which in any case is quite generous to her. On the contrary, India has very sincerely adhered to the provisions of Indus Water Treaty; in fact has been generous in sharing what is legitimately belongs to her and has got cross- border terrorism and open hostility in return for her generosity. Therefore time is ripe to pragmatically look at the Treaty in its current form and enlarge its scope to include all stake holders and reassess their needs by a consensus..

End Notes
  1. [email protected]
  2. PTI,-“Govt-Issues-Details-of-Projects-Aimed-at--Stopping-flow-of-India’s-Share-of-Water-to-Pakistan,-published-in-the-Times-of-India-dated-22-Feb-2019.
  3. Ujh-Multipurpose-Project,-Daily-Excelsior--dated-17-Jan-2019.
  4. Naveen-S-Garewal,-“2nd-Ravi-Beas-link-forgotten”,-published-in-The-Tribune-dated-18-May-2018.
  5. Ibid-2.
  6. Maj-Gen-AK-Chaturvedi,-“Water-a-Source-of-Future-Conflicts”,-pp-160,-pub-by-Vij-Books-Pvt-Ltd,-May-2013.
  7. Sarfraz,H.,-“Revisiting-the-1960-Indus-water-Treaty”-pub-in-water-international,-38-(2)-during-2013,-p-205.
  8. MS-Gill,-“Water-Crisis-of-East-and-West-Punjab”,-pub-in-The-Hindu-dated-15-Dec-2016.
  9. Ibid-8.
  10. Faris-S.,-“The-Last-Straw:-If-You-Think-These-Failed-States-Look-Bad-Now,-Wait-Until-The-Climate-Changes”,-pub-in-Foreign-Policy,-available-at-
  11. Internet-upload:-
  12. Col-Harjeet-Singh,-“Water-availability-in-Pakistan”-pub-in-Indian-Defence-Review,-issue-Vol-25,-04-Oct-Dec-2010/23-Sep-2016.
  13. Shafqat-Kakakhel,-“Afghanistan-Pakistan-Treaty-on-the-Kabul-River-Basin?”
  14. Shamir-Baloch,-“Water-Crisis:-Why-is-Pakistan-Running-Dry”
  15. IBID-6,-pp--124
  16. IBID--6,-------pp-174

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct).

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