India has been exemplary to a fault against Pakistan in Indus Water Treaty

21th September 2020

21th September 2020

Nehru and Ayub Khan signing the IWT in Karachi on September 19, 1960

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) completed 60 years of successful operations two days ago on September 19. Except minor hiccups regarding run of river (RoR) hydropower projects, the treaty has worked well for these six decades. Incidentally, after completing 60 years of age, most government employees get retired and are sent home, barring few exceptions.

Any examples of such water division between two hostile neighbours from anywhere around the world? At such a scale and where upper riparian (India in this case) has behaved in the most responsible manner to ensure success of a water division pact. No, there is none and prime example of absolute upper riparian hegemony is China which doesn't have a single treaty with any downstream user country.

Jegan Nathan, who teaches in the Central University of Jammu, defended Indian stance on different forums where this treaty was discussed. At one international webinar, he countered attempts by some Pakistani scholars to mislead. He says Pakistan to play victim in such gatherings is not unexpected but that can be countered factually.

Incidentally, the data used for negotiating IWT water division between India and Pakistan was that of 1921-25 water flows. Annual discharges recorded in six rivers of Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Rawi, Beas and Sutlej and collated about a century ago. The flows were put at 168 Million Acre Feet (MAF) annually. Of these, 135 MAF were allocated to Pakistan and only 33 MAF to India.

During this period, we have seen a lot of changes in various fields associated with hydrology of rivers. Have any changes occurred in the seasonal flows in these rivers during four quarters of the year? Yes, of course. What are the changes that have occurred in the natural flow patterns in various rivers? If truth be told, drastic changes in the overall flows and their seasonal patterns have been recorded.

The question we need to ask is then how long should IWT continue in the present form? Should it not be changed to accommodate new realities of hydrology, environment and allied issues? It should definitely be reviewed so that concerns of the two neighbours involved in this treaty are taken care of. (Below is the image of a book I have co-authored on the subject and which could be bought here).

What is the official position of the two governments towards the treaty? What is it that the two governments tell their citizens about the treaty? What are the public perceptions about the IWT among the masses of (i) India and (ii) Pakistan?

All these things and more will have to be taken into account if the treaty is to be reviewed. On the Indian side, there has been, time and again, a clamour for scrapping IWT unilaterally to punish Pakistan after each terrorist strike. Be it the 26/11 Mumbai attack of 2008, Pathankot Air Force station attack, Uri attack of September 2016, or the Pulwama attack of February 2019.

Incidentally, no clause of exit exists in the treaty in the present form. Some scholars in India have often argued that it should be scrapped forthwith. If that is by India unilaterally, where does that lead us to and what happens then? The action can most probably land us in International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Pakistan can challenge it.

The reason is that international laws on sharing or apportionment of international rivers have evolved over the last few decades. Theoretically, ICJ doesn't condone any unilateral actions by upper riparian states, and promotes equitable distribution of resources.

In Pakistan, a narrative prevails among masses that the treaty was unfair, that India "steals its waters". This is something promoted by the government as also non-state actors, mostly terror groups. Incidentally, all the three Western Rivers allocated to Pakistan under IWT flow through erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. This is the basic reason as to why Pakistan covets J&K and is unlikely to settle the issue in the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, some high-powered webinars were held in many parts of the world on September 19 which discussed this treaty. At many of these webinars, Pakistani delegates alleged that the treaty was unfair.

The Pakistan delegates have no answers when it is pointed out that under IWT, 80.52% of waters were given to Pakistan and only 19.48% to India. This very fact puts those delegates on the backfoot and that is something they quickly tried to gloss over.

One such webinar was conducted under the aegis of ICCR Kolkata and it was moderated by Uttam Sinha. International Dogra Society of London conducted another webinar at which Harbans Singh Sambyal, a scholar, spoke at length about the treaty and compared it to some other water-sharing treaties between different nations.

India allows 2-3 MAF water of Eastern Rivers allotted to it to flow into Pakistan as it hasn't constructed the hydrological structures, including dams and barrages, needed to harness this. Over the last 60 years, this alone comes to 120 to 180 MAF of water which could have been utilised for irrigation of Indian fields.

It is also allowed storage of 3.6 MAF of water on the Western Rivers for irrigation and other allied usage. India has singularly failed to commit money and resources needed for creating structures to store such huge quantities. Resorting to a bombastic language regarding stoppage of water going to Pakistan is one thing and thinking through utilisation of even own share is something else altogether.

Of course, certain things are changing for the better on the Indian side. Fuller utilisation of own share is something seriously being looked into. Some of the projects aimed at utilising 100% of the Indian share as per IWT are presently at different stages.

In the next couple of write-ups, some of these projects would be discussed.

Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is now out and could be bought here.

Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.

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