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Indus Water treaty: prolonged pressure point in Indo-Pak relations

Indus Water treaty: prolonged pressure point in Indo-Pak relations

  • In news: recently, India sent notice to Pakistan seeking modification of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty is the fallout of a longstanding dispute over two hydroelectric power projects on the western rivers — the fully operational Kishenganga on the Jhelum, and Ratle on the Chenab.
  • Background:
    • The notice appears to be a fallout of a longstanding dispute over two hydroelectric power projects that India is constructing – one on the Kishanganga river, a tributary of Jhelum, and the other on the Chenab.
    • Pakistan has raised objections to these projects, and dispute resolution mechanisms under the Treaty have been invoked multiple times. But a full resolution has not been reached.
    • Under the treaty, along with the Indus, these two western rivers were allotted to Pakistan for its unrestricted use. India could use the waters of these rivers for “non-consumptive use”, including run-of-the river hydel projects. The Kishenganga was constructed after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in India’s favour. But Pakistan continues to object to this and the Ratle dam.
    • India has sought to modify the treaty after Pakistan refused intergovernmental negotiations on the matter.

  • About Indus water treaty:
    • The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) is a nearly 60-year-old water-distribution treaty that delimits the rights and obligations of India and Pakistan for the use of waters on the Indus Rivers, with the World Bank acting as its third-party guarantor.
    • Under the Indus Waters Agreement signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, the waters of the eastern rivers (Ravi, Basin, Sutlej and its tributaries) in the Indus Water System were allocated to India.
    • On the other hand, India has to maintain the water flow of the western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab and its tributaries) and these were allocated to Pakistan.
    • The Kishanganga (Neelum) and Ratle hydropower projects in India’s Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are on these western rivers, which Pakistan has objected to.
  • Why are the two countries dissatisfied by the treaty?
    • From the Indian point of view, the basic dissatisfaction with the treaty arises from the fact that it prevents the country from building any storage systems on the western rivers. Even though the treaty lays out that under certain exceptional circumstances storage systems can be built, the complaint raised by India is that Pakistan deliberately stops any such effort due to the political rivalry it shares with India.
    • The matter is further aggravated by the fact that the western rivers lie in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been a subject of tussle between the two countries since independence.
    • Since the treaty’s conception in 1960, the two countries have been embroiled in conflicts over a number of projects including the Salal hydroelectric project on the Chenab, the Tulbul project, the Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric plants.
    • The treaty is highly technical leading to far ranging divergences between the two countries in terms of interpretations.
    • Added to this inherent limitation within the treaty is the political situation between the two countries, further aggravating geopolitical tensions in the region.
  • Challenges associated with treaty:
    • The Treaty is highly unbalanced:
      • Despite IRB being a monolithic geographical entity, the IWT crudely divided the five rivers from East and Indus along the longitudes.
      • It did not take into account that two of the rivers namely Indus and Sutlej originate in Tibet Autonomous Region of China, with its implications on availability of water in these rivers.
      • The treaty does not take into account other rivers joining Indus from West like Kabul, which has bearing on availability of water in Indus.
    • Allocation of water is interpreted differently: Both countries consider it unfair because Pakistan argues that its demand should have been considered based on traditional ‘Rights’ but India wants it to be interpreted on the basis of ‘Needs’.
    • The Treaty has too many engineering provisions, which give Pakistan undue advantage to vet the designs of the Indian projects on Western Rivers.

Example: Kishenganga Hydroelectric Project is being resented and resisted by Pakistan at every international forum though India has met all conditions which were stipulated by the International Court of Arbitration.

  • The Treaty does not cater for the changing social, economic, technical and environmental issues:

  • Way forward:
    • To achieve a stronger Indus Water Treaty, both states must shift from acting based on the rationality of water, and focus instead on its relationality. This means moving from water sharing (rationality) to benefit sharing (relationality). Rationality has a singular  focus on volumetric allocation of water, and relationality expands the definition of water from surface water (water quantity), to water quality, preservation of wetlands and biodiversity, soil erosion, conjunctive use of ground and surface water, and nature based solutions.
    • Both countries could also benefit from focusing more on a sub-basin level instead of managing the area with a singular holistic approach. Interventions at the sub-basin level that can account for contextual factors, such as the socio-economic composition of the area and the existing hydrology, would make the action more effective.

Where can we use it:

  • Geography optional- paper2(International boundary of India and related issues).
  • GS: GS2 (India and its Neighborhood- Relations).










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