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Sansad TV: Perspective- Indus Water Treaty





India has informed Pakistan of its intention to amend the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, which sets out a mechanism for management of cross-border rivers. According to reports India was forced to issue the notice as Pakistan’s actions had “adversely impinged” on the provisions of the treaty and their implementation. The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in September 1960 after nine years of negotiations between India and Pakistan and was brokered by the World Bank, which too is a signatory. Under the provisions of this treaty India got about 3.3 crore of 16.8 crore acre-feet of water in the Indus system. At current usage, India utilises a little over 90% of its quota of Indus waters.

River Indus flowing in Jammu and Kashmir, India

  • River Course: Indus river, one of the longest rivers (3610m long) in Asia, originates in the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar, runs its course through Jammu and Kashmir, towards Gilgit-Baltistan and the Hindukush ranges, and then flows southwards in Pakistan to drain in the Arabian Sea (at Rann of Kutch).
  • Countries covered by it: China (Tibet Autonomous region), India and Pakistan
  • States covered: Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tibet
  • Tributaries: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Sutlej, Zanskar, Kabul, etc.
  • Civilizations And Empires Developed In The Region: Indus Valley Civilization that represents one of the largest human habitations of the ancient world developed in the regions of Indus river basin. In the later years, it was dominated by the Kushan Empire and the Persian Empire. Over many centuries, armies of Muhammad Bin Qasim, Mahmud of Ghazni, Babur, etc crossed the Indus river and invaded the inner regions of the Punjab and beyond.
  • Economics: The river basin and canals in its region sustain agriculture and food production in its region and, constructed dams generate electricity.

Indus Water Treaty:

  • It is a Water-Distribution Treaty, signed in Karachi on 09.1960, between India (PM Jawaharlal Nehru) and Pakistan (President Ayub Khan), brokered by the World Bank (an international financial institution formed in 1945).
  • China is not a part of the treaty.
  • Control over the water flowing in 3 “eastern” rivers of India (Beas, Ravi and Sutlej) with mean flow of 33 million acre feet (MAF) was given to India, while in 3 “western” rivers of India (Indus, Chenab and Jhelum) with mean flow of 80 MAF was given to Pakistan.
  • India can use (excluding domestic, industrial and non consumptive uses from western rivers) nearly 20% of the total water carried by the Indus System of Rivers. Pakistan can use the remaining 80%.
  • India is allowed to use western rivers for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation (by run-of-river hydro power plants), industrial and non consumptive uses (navigation, fish culture, etc). But, precise regulations are laid down for India to build projects.
  • Treaty created a “Permanent Indus Commission” as it was agreed to exchange data and co-operate in matters related to the treaty.
  • The Treaty is considered to be very successful as most of the disagreements anddisputes have been settled via legal procedures. India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars since the Treaty’s ratification in 1960.

Reasons behind success of Indus Water Treaty

  • First, the treaty has unequal sharing of the waters. Pakistan has been allocated ~80% of the Indus basin waters.
  • Experts have termed this the most generous water sharing treaty. It is the only water-sharing pact in the world that compels upper riparian State to defer to the interests of the downstream State.
  • Second, it prevents India from building any storage systems on the western rivers.
  • Third, the basin’s size and volume is getting altered by climate changeand this alteration is going to intensify in future. There would be instances of more high-intensity rainfall as well as long stretches of scanty rainfall.
  • There would be a high influx of water due to glacial melt. The contribution of glaciers in the Indus basin is higher than in the Ganges or Brahmaputra basins.
  • A change in the flow conditions may classify as ‘change of circumstances’ which can justify renegotiation or termination in the future.
  • Fourth, the recent report of the Standing Committee of Water resources noted that canals in Punjab and Rajasthan (Rajasthan Feeder and the Sirhind Feeder) had become old and were not maintained properly. This had resulted in the lowering of their water carrying capacity.
  • Thus, the water from the Harike Barrage on the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej in Punjab was usually released downstream into Pakistan. Pakistan is getting more waters than its entitlement in the Eastern Rivers.

Scope for India under The Treaty:

  • India can reduce the water flow to Pakistan under the provisions of the Treaty. It can utilize the maximum of 20% water sharing which it is permitted.
  • Violating the Treaty may not be a good option as the Treaty is meant to reduce the hostilities between India and Pakistan. Also, it requires a lot of infrastructure to store the additional water available.
  • Violating the treaty may also bring China in action which can block the flow of Brahmaputra River flowing to India. Terror activities from Pakistanmay also get intensified.
  • India is keeping an eye on a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council. So, it should safeguard such treaties which involve international bodies (World Bank in this case).


Indus Water Treaty is time tested over decades. But, India is serious to review the Treaty in aftermath of the 2016 Uri attacks. If required, India can put pressure on Pakistan by utilizing maximum of water sharing it is allowed within the scope of the treaty. The Treaty has prevented any water wars between the two nations and so its provisions shall be maintained by both the nations.