Indus Waters Treaty

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The Indus Waters Treaty (English) or सिंधु जल - संधि (Hindi) or "سندھ طاس معاہدہ" (Urdu) is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).[1][2] The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.

According to this agreement, control over the three "eastern" rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three "western" rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan. More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan's rivers flow through India first, the treaty allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise regulations for Indian building projects along the way. The treaty was a result of Pakistani fear that, since the source rivers of the Indus basin were in India, it could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war.

Since the ratification of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars. Most disagreements and disputes have been settled via legal procedures, provided for within the framework of the treaty. The treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today, even though analysts acknowledge the need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the document to include climate change.[3] As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus river.[4][5][6]

Treaty provisions[edit]

The Indus system of rivers comprises three western rivers — the Indus, the Jhelum and Chenab — and three eastern rivers — the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi. The treaty, under Article 5.1, envisages the sharing of waters of the rivers Ravi, Beas, Sutlej, Jhelum and Chenab which join the Indus River on its left bank (eastern side) in Pakistan. According to this treaty, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, which constitute the eastern rivers, are allocated for exclusive use by India before they enter Pakistan. However, a transition period of 10 years was permitted in which India was bound to supply water to Pakistan from these rivers until Pakistan was able to build the canal system for utilization of waters of Jhelum, Chenab and the Indus itself, allocated to it under the treaty. Similarly, Pakistan has exclusive use of the western rivers Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. Pakistan also received one-time financial compensation for the loss of water from the eastern rivers. Since March 31, 1970, after the 10-year moratorium, India has secured full rights for use of the waters of the three rivers[7] allocated to it.[8][9] The treaty resulted in partitioning of the rivers rather than sharing of their waters.[10]

The countries agree to exchange data and co-operate in matters related to the treaty. For this purpose, treaty creates the Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner appointed by each country. It would follow the set procedure for adjudicating any future disputes arising over the allocation of waters. The Commission has survived three wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits. The Commission is required to meet regularly to discuss potential disputes as well as cooperative arrangements for the development of the basin. Either party must notify the other of plans to construct any engineering works which would affect the other party and to provide data about such works. In cases of disagreement, a neutral expert is called in for mediation and arbitration. While neither side has initiated projects that could cause the kind of conflict that the Commission was created to resolve, the annual inspections and exchange of data continue, unperturbed by tensions on the subcontinent.

History and background[edit]

The waters of the Indus basin begin in Tibet and the Himalayan mountains in the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. They flow from the hills through the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir and Sindh, converging in Pakistan and emptying into the Arabian Sea south of Karachi. Where once there was only a narrow strip of irrigated land along these rivers, developments over the last century have created a large network of canals and storage facilities that provide water for more than 26 million acres (110,000 km2), the largest irrigated area of any one river system in the world.

The partition of British India created a conflict over the plentiful waters of the Indus basin. The newly formed states were at odds over how to share and manage what was essentially a cohesive and unitary network of irrigation. Furthermore, the geography of partition was such that the source rivers of the Indus basin were in India. Pakistan felt its livelihood threatened by the prospect of Indian control over the tributaries that fed water into the Pakistani portion of the basin. Where India certainly had its own ambitions for the profitable development of the basin, Pakistan felt acutely threatened by a conflict over the main source of water for its cultivable land.

During the first years of partition, the waters of the Indus were apportioned by the Inter-Dominion Accord of May 4, 1948. This accord required India to release sufficient waters to the Pakistani regions of the basin in return for annual payments from the government of Pakistan. The accord was meant to meet immediate requirements and was followed by negotiations for a more permanent solution. However, neither side was willing to compromise their respective positions and negotiations reached a stalemate. From the Indian point of view, there was nothing that Pakistan could do to prevent India from any of the schemes to divert the flow of water in the rivers.[11] Pakistan wanted to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, but India refused, arguing that the conflict required a bilateral resolution.

World Bank involvement[edit]

In this same year, David Lilienthal, formerly the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, visited the region to write a series of articles for Collier's magazine. Lilienthal had a keen interest in the subcontinent and was welcomed by the highest levels of both Indian and Pakistani governments. Although his visit was sponsored by Collier's, Lilienthal was briefed by state department and executive branch officials, who hoped that Lilienthal could help bridge the gap between India and Pakistan and also gauge hostilities on the subcontinent. During the course of his visit, it became clear to Lilienthal that tensions between India and Pakistan were acute, but also unable to be erased with one sweeping gesture. He wrote in his journal:

India and Pakistan were on the verge of war over Kashmir. There seemed to be no possibility of negotiating this issue until tensions abated. One way to reduce hostility . . . would be to concentrate on other important issues where cooperation was possible. Progress in these areas would promote a sense of community between the two nations which might, in time, lead to a Kashmir settlement. Accordingly, I proposed that India and Pakistan work out a program jointly to develop and jointly to operate the Indus Basin river system, upon which both nations were dependent for irrigation water. With new dams and irrigation canals, the Indus and its tributaries could be made to yield the additional water each country needed for increased food production. In the article I had suggested that the World Bank might use its good offices to bring the parties to agreement, and help in the financing of an Indus Development program.[12]:93

Lilienthal's idea was well received by officials at the World Bank, and, subsequently, by the Indian and Pakistani governments. Eugene R. Black, then president of the World Bank, told Lilienthal that his proposal "makes good sense all round". Black wrote that the Bank was interested in the economic progress of the two countries and had been concerned that the Indus dispute could only be a serious handicap to this development. India's previous objections to third party arbitration were remedied by the Bank's insistence that it would not adjudicate the conflict but rather work as a conduit for agreement.[13]

Black also made a distinction between the "functional" and "political" aspects of the Indus dispute. In his correspondence with Indian and Pakistan leaders, Black asserted that the Indus dispute could most realistically be solved if the functional aspects of disagreement were negotiated apart from political considerations. He envisioned a group that tackled the question of how best to utilize the waters of the Indus Basin, leaving aside questions of historic rights or allocations.

Black proposed a Working Party made up of Indian, Pakistani and World Bank engineers. The World Bank delegation would act as a consultative group, charged with offering suggestions and speeding dialogue. In his opening statement to the Working Party, Black spoke of why he was optimistic about the group's success:

One aspect of Mr. Lilienthal's proposal appealed to me from the first. I mean his insistence that the Indus problem is an engineering problem and should be dealt with by engineers. One of the strengths of the engineering profession is that, all over the world, engineers speak the same language and approach problems with common standards of judgment.[12]:110

Black's hopes for a quick resolution to the Indus dispute were premature. While the Bank had expected that the two sides would come to an agreement on the allocation of waters, neither India nor Pakistan seemed willing to compromise their positions. While Pakistan insisted on its historical right to waters of all the Indus tributaries and that half of West Punjab was under threat of desertification, the Indian side argued that the previous distribution of waters should not set future allocation. Instead, the Indian side set up a new basis of distribution, with the waters of the Western tributaries going to Pakistan and the Eastern tributaries to India. The substantive technical discussions that Black had hoped for were stymied by the political considerations he had expected to avoid.

The World Bank soon became frustrated with this lack of progress. What had originally been envisioned as a technical dispute that would quickly untangle itself started to seem intractable. India and Pakistan were unable to agree on the technical aspects of allocation, let alone the implementation of any agreed upon distribution of waters. Finally, in 1954, after nearly two years of negotiation, the World bank offered its own proposal, stepping beyond the limited role it had apportioned for itself and forcing the two sides to consider concrete plans for the future of the basin. The proposal offered India the three eastern tributaries of the basin and Pakistan the three western tributaries. Canals and storage dams were to be constructed to divert waters from the western rivers and replace the eastern river supply lost by Pakistan.

While the Indian side was amenable to the World Bank proposal, Pakistan found it unacceptable. The World Bank allocated the eastern rivers to India and the western rivers to Pakistan. This new distribution did not account for the historical usage of the Indus basin, or the fact that West Punjab's Eastern districts could turn into desert, and repudiated Pakistan's negotiating position. Where India had stood for a new system of allocation, Pakistan felt that its share of waters should be based on pre-partition distribution. The World Bank proposal was more in line with the Indian plan and this angered the Pakistani delegation. They threatened to withdraw from the Working Party, and negotiations verged on collapse.

However, neither side could afford the dissolution of talks. The Pakistani press met rumors of an end to negotiation with talk of increased hostilities; the government was ill-prepared to forego talks for a violent conflict with India and was forced to reconsider its position. India was also eager to settle the Indus issue; large development projects were put on hold by negotiations, and Indian leaders were eager to divert water for irrigation.

In December 1954, the two sides returned to the negotiating table. The World Bank proposal was transformed from a basis of settlement to a basis for negotiation and the talks continued, stop and go, for the next six years.[14]

One of the last stumbling blocks to an agreement concerned financing for the construction of canals and storage facilities that would transfer water from the western rivers to Pakistan. This transfer was necessary to make up for the water Pakistan was giving up by ceding its rights to the eastern rivers. The World Bank initially planned for India to pay for these works, but India refused. The Bank responded with a plan for external financing. An Indus Basin Development Fund Agreement (Karachi, 19 September 1960); a treaty between Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IRDC) and Pakistan who agreed to provide a combination of funds and loans.[15] This solution cleared the remaining stumbling blocks to agreement, and the Indus Waters Treaty was signed by the leaders of both countries on the same day in 1960.[16] The grants and loans to Pakistan were extended in 1964 through a supplementary agreement.[17]

Grants and Loans to Pakistan[edit]

Country Currency Original Grant (1960) Supplementaty Grant (1964) Original Loan to Pakistan (1960) Supplementary Loan to Pakistan (1964)
India  GB£ 62,060,000   Ten yearly instalments Article 5 of IWT
Australia  6,965,000 4,669,643 
Canada  Can$  22,100,000 16,810,794 
Germany  DM  126,000,000 80,400,000 
New Zealand  NZ£  1,000,000 503,434 
United Kingdom  GB£ 20,860,000 13,978,571 
United States  US$  177,000,000 118,590,000  70,000,000 51,220,000 
IRDC Bank  US$  90,000,000 (in various currencies) inc interest[18]  58,540,000 (in various currencies) 

Treaty implications[edit]

From the rivers flowing in India, India got nearly 33 million acre feet (MAF) from eastern rivers whereas Pakistan got nearly 125 MAF from western rivers.[19] However India can use the western river waters for irrigation up to 701,000 acres with new water storage capacity not exceeding 1.25 MAF and use the rivers for run of river hydro power generation with storage not exceeding 1.6 MAF and nominal flood storage capacity of 0.75 MAF.[3] These water allocations made to the J&K state of India are meagre to meet its irrigation water requirements whereas the treaty permitted enough water to irrigate 80% of the cultivated lands in the Indus river basin of Pakistan.[20][21] The storage capacity permitted by the treaty for hydro power generation is less than the total annual silt that would accumulate in the reservoirs if the total hydro potential of the state was to be exploited fully. Pakistan is also losing additional benefits by not permitting moderate water storages in upstream J&K state whose water would be ultimately released to the Pakistan for its use and avoid few dams requirement in its territory. Ultimately, J&K state is bound to resort costly de-silting of its reservoirs to keep them operational. Whereas Pakistan is planning to build multi purpose water reservoirs with massive storage for impounding multi year inflows such as 4,500 MW Diamer-Bhasha Dam, 3,600 MW Kalabagh Dam, 600 MW Akhori Dam, Dasu Dam, Bunji Dam, Thakot dam, Patan dam, etc projects with huge population resettlement.[3] In case of any dam break, downstream areas in Pakistan as well as Kutch region in India would face unprecedented water deluge or submergence as these dams are located in high seismically-active zones.[22]

Treaty under scrutiny[edit]

The treaty has not considered Gujarat state in India as part of the Indus river basin. The Indus river is entering the Great Rann of Kutch area and feeding in to Kori Creek during floods. At the time of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, the Great Rann of Kutch area was disputed territory between the two nations which was later settled in the year 1968 by sharing total disputed area in 9:1 ratio between India and Pakistan. Without taking consent from India, Pakistan has constructed Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project passing through the Great Rann of Kutch area with the assistance from the world bank. LBOD's purpose is to bypass the saline and polluted water which is not fit for agriculture use to reach sea via Rann of Kutch area without passing through its Indus delta.[23] Water released by the LBOD is enhancing the flooding in India and contaminating the quality of water bodies which are source of water to salt farms spread over vast area.[24] The LBOD water is planned to join the sea via disputed Sir Creek but LBOD water is entering Indian territory due to many breaches in its left bank caused by floods[25] Gujarat state of India being the lower most riparian part of Indus basin, Pakistan is bound to provide all the details of engineering works taken up by Pakistan to India as per the provisions of the treaty and shall not proceed with the project works till the disagreements are settled by arbitration process.[26]

In aftermath of the 2016 Uri attack, India reviewed the treaty and its provisions and proposed several changes[27][28] In September 2016, public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India challenging the validity of the treaty as it was signed by the Prime minister of India who is not head of the Indian republic.[29] The President of India is the official head of the state.

See also[edit]


  • Barrett, Scott, "Conflict and Cooperation in Managing International Water Resources," Policy Research Working Paper 1303, The World Bank, May 1994.
  • Michel, Aloys Arthur, The Indus Rivers: A Study of the Effects of Partition, Yale University Press: New Haven, 1967.
  • Verghese, B.G., Waters of Hope, Oxford and IBH Publishing: New Delhi, 1990.


  1. ^ "Full text of 'Indus Water Treaty', Ministry of water resources, Govt. of India". 1960. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  2. ^ War over water The Guardian, Monday 3 June 2002 01.06 BST
  3. ^ a b c "The Indus Equation Report" (PDF). Strategic Foresight Group. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  4. ^ C.A. Brebbia (4 September 2013). Water and Society II. WIT Press. pp. 103–. ISBN 978-1-84564-742-1. 
  5. ^ Map Workbook. FK Publications. pp. 27–. ISBN 978-81-89611-79-8. 
  6. ^ Roy Chowdhury, Biswaroop. Memory Unlimited. Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd. pp. 148–. ISBN 978-81-8419-017-5. 
  7. ^ Shreyan, Sengupta. "Transboundary water disputes" (PDF). ETH Zurich. ETH Zurich. Retrieved 24 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Garg, Santosh Kumar (1999). International and interstate river water disputes. Laxmi Publications. pp. 54–55. ISBN 81-7008-068-1. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  9. ^ "Indus Waters Treaty 1960" (pdf). Site Resources; World Bank. pp. 1–24. 
  10. ^ "Water Sharing Conflicts Between Countries, and Approaches to Resolving Them" (PDF). Honolulu: Global Environment and Energy in the 21st century. p. 98. Archived from the original (pdf) on August 21, 2007. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  11. ^ What Indus water treaty means By Dr Adam Nayyar, DAWN Archived May 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ a b Gulhati, Niranjan D., The Indus Waters Treaty: An Exercise in International Mediation, Allied Publishers: Bombay, 1973.
  13. ^ Mason, Edward Sagendorph; Asher, Robert E. (1973). The World Bank Since Bretton Woods (First ed.). Wawshington: The Brookings Institution. p. 612. ISBN 9780815720300. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "Indus Waters Treaty: View From Kashmir". 2006. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Indus water treaty". World Bank. Retrieved 28 October 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "India generous with its shared water resources". Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Geography of Jammu and Kashmir State". Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  21. ^ "Legislative Assembly rejects PDP resolution". Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "Pakistan's Indus Cascade - a disaster in the making". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  23. ^ "Revisiting the LBOD issue". Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  24. ^ "Indus re-enters India after two centuries, feeds Little Rann, Nal Sarovar". Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  25. ^ "Evolution of the Delta, the LBOD outfall system and the Badin dhands - chapters 3 & 4" (PDF). World Bank. 2006. Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  26. ^ "Wrangles over water: Pakistan wages a water war on India". Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  27. ^ How India plans to use Indus Water Treaty to turn the heat on Pakistan
  28. ^ "Narendra Modi lays groundwork for water war in battle with Pakistan". Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  29. ^ "PIL challenging the constitutional validity of Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan was filed in Supreme Court". Retrieved 28 September 2016. 

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