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The Indus Water Treaty

Mar 09, 2022

The Indus Water Treaty

In today’s series of our Current Affairs Dialog box, we will discuss the Indus Water Treaty, its background, key points, and its relevance from the CSE syllabus and its importance in the UPSC exam preparation. 

Click here to read yesterday’s edition of Current Affairs. 

Prelims: Current Events of National and International Importance.

Mains: India and its Neighborhood - Relations.

Why in the News?

Recently, a delegation from India visited Pakistan to attend the 117th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission.

Probable Question

Examine the provisions of the Indus water treaty and highlight the point of contention between India and Pakistan over it.

Key Points

  • The two countries hold a yearly meeting to discuss cooperation on the Indus River System, as prescribed under Article VIII of the Indus Waters Treaty signed by both in 1960, with the intervention of the World Bank
  • The Commissioners are required to meet at least once a year, alternately in India and Pakistan.

Image Source: Times of India

About Indus Waters Treaty


  • The Indus River basin has six rivers - Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej; originating from Tibet and flowing through the Himalayan ranges to enter Pakistan, ending in the south of Karachi.
  • Preceding partition, the Indus River basin was one common network for both India and Pakistan. 
  • In 1947, the line of partition, aside from delineating geographical boundaries for India and Pakistan, also cut the Indus River system into two.
  • Initially, the Inter-dominion accord of May 1948 was adopted, where both countries, after meeting for a conference, decided that India would supply water to Pakistan in exchange for an annual payment made by the latter. 
    • This agreement, however, soon disintegrated as both the countries could not agree upon their common interpretations.
  • In 1951, in the backdrop of the water-sharing dispute, both countries applied to the World Bank for funding of their respective irrigation projects on ​​Indus and its tributaries, which is when the World Bank offered to mediate the conflict. 
  • Finally in 1960, after nearly a decade of fact-finding, negotiation, proposals by the World Bank and amendments to them, an agreement was reached between the two countries, and the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan.

Also read: How to Prepare International Relations for UPSC

Key Provisions of the Indus Water Treaty

  • Allocation of Rivers: It allocated the three western rivers—Indus, Chenab and Jhelum—to Pakistan for unrestricted use, barring certain non-consumptive, agricultural and domestic uses by India and the three Eastern rivers—Ravi, Beas and Sutlej—were allocated to India for unrestricted usage.
    • This means that 80% of the share of water went to Pakistan, while leaving the 20% of water for use by India.
  • Setting up of Permanent Indus Commission: It established a Permanent Indus Commission constituted by permanent commissioners on both sides. 
    • The functions of the commission include serving as a forum for the exchange of information on the rivers, for continued cooperation, and as the first stop for the resolution of conflicts.
  • Rights over Usage of Water: Annexure C of the IWT allows India certain agricultural uses, while Annexure D allows it to build ‘run of the river’ hydropower projects, meaning projects not requiring live storage of water. It also provides certain design specifications which India has to follow while developing such projects.
    • The treaty also allows Pakistan to raise objections over such projects being built by India if it does not find them to be compliant with the specifications. 
  • Exit Provision: IWT does not have a unilateral exit provision and is supposed to remain in force unless both countries ratify another mutually agreed pact.
  • India’s Right Over Western Rivers: Besides, India is allowed to have a minimum storage level on the western rivers – meaning it can store up to 3.75 MAF of water for conservation and flood storage purposes.
  • Dispute Resolution Mechanism: The IWT also provides a three-step dispute resolution mechanism:
    • Permanent Commission: Under it, “questions” on both sides can be resolved, or can also be taken up at the inter-government level.
    • World Bank: In case of unresolved questions or “differences” between the countries on water-sharing, such as technical differences, either side can approach the World Bank to appoint a Neutral Expert (NE) to come to a decision.
    • Court of Arbitration: And eventually, if either party is not satisfied with the Neutral Expert’s decision or in case of “disputes” in the interpretation and extent of the treaty, matters can be referred to a Court of Arbitration.

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India’s Concerns

  • 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.

IWT & Geopolitics

  • Internationally, the IWT is seen as one of the most successful cases of conflict resolution especially considering the fact that it has stayed in place despite the two countries having been engaged in four wars.
  • Following the Uri attack in September 2016, India decided to not hold a meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission so long as Pakistan does not stop funding terrorist activities.
Indus Water Treaty & India’s Projects

Since the treaty’s conception in 1960, India-Pakistan has 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.

Kishanganga Hydro Project

Kishanganga also known as Neelum, a tributary of the Jhelum river, originates in J&K and joins the river in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

The Kishanganga hydroelectric plant is an $864 million worth project that was initiated in 2007 and was projected to be completed by 2016.

Pakistan took the project to the Court of Arbitration in 2010 raising six issues that they say violate the treaty. 

In 2013, the Court of Arbitration ruled India to go ahead with the project under the condition that a minimum water flow to Pakistan of 9 cubic meters per second is maintained.

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