The Indus Waters Treaty - 1960.

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan which was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan with the intervention of the World Bank. The Treaty generally governs the rights and obligations of each Party in relation to the other with respect only to the use of the waters of the Rivers.

The treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today. Since the ratification of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars, however it has been a major source of conflict, between India and Pakistan, due to its interpretation and implementation. There have been multiple disagreements and differences between both countries since then, its commencement, and till now.

The waters of the Indus System of Rivers begin mainly in Tibet, Afghanistan, and the Himalayan mountains in the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
They flow through the states of Punjab, Balochistan, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunar, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Sindh, etc before emptying into the Arabian Sea south of Karachi and Kori Creek in Gujarat.



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Rivers shared as per the Treaty
Under the treaty the control of six rivers, Indus and its 5 tributaries, in the Indus water system was divided between the India and Pakistan. which are classified in 2 categories:

EASTERN RIVERS: Water flow control given to India with the mean flow of 33 million acre-feet (MAF) at 20%.
  1. Beas
  2. Sutlej
  3. Ravi
WESTERN RIVERS: Water flow control Given to Pakistan with the mean flow of 80 million acre-feet (MAF) at 80%.
  1. Indus 
  2. Chenab
  3. Jhelum

Provisions Regarding Eastern Rivers
According to Article II of the treaty The Transition Period (The term "Transition Period" means the period beginning and ending as provided in Article II) shall begin on 1st April 1960 and it shall end on 31st March 1970, or it can be extended under some provisions.
During the transition period all the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Beas, Sutlej and Ravi) shall be available for the unrestricted use of India.
Except for Domestic Use, Non-Consumptive and Agricultural use Pakistan shall be under an obligation to let flow, and shall not permit any interference with, the waters of the Sutlej Main and the Ravi Main in the reaches where these rivers flow in Pakistan and have not yet finally crossed in to Pakistan.

Domestic Use - means the use of water for:
  • (a) drinking, washing, bathing,  recreation,  sanitation purposes.
  • (b) household and municipal purposes like household gardens and public recreational    gardens
  • (c) industrial purposes.
Agricultural Use - means the use of water for irrigation. 

Non-Consumptive Use - means any control or use of water for: navigation, floating of timber or other property, flood protection or flood control, fishing or fish culture, wild life or other like beneficial purposes etc.Interference means:  Any man-made obstruction to their flow which causes a change in the volume (within the practical range of measurement) of the daily flow of the waters.

Provisions Regarding Western Rivers
Article III of the treaty, in same manners of Article II, makes provisions for Western Rivers. According to this article of the treaty -
During the transition period Pakistan shall receive, for unrestricted use, all those waters of the Western Rivers which India is under obligation to let flow and (India) shall not permit any interference with these waters, except for the following uses;
  • (a) Domestic Use;
  • (b) Non-Consumptive Use;
  • (c) Agricultural Use,
  • (d) Generation of hydro-electric power (accordance with annexure D of the Treaty).
However the treaty says, India shall not store any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers, Except as provided in Annexures D and E in The Treaty, which is the basic dissatisfaction from the Indian Point of view.

Financial Provisions
Treaty also provides a set of procedures for funding and buildings of dams, links Canals, barrages and Tube well (like - Tarbela Dam on Indus and Magla Dam on Jhelum these Dams provide water to Pakistan in amounts it had previously received from rivers, now assigned to India's exclusive use).
Financing, for the development of the rivers, is generally contributed by member countries of World Bank.

Permanent Indus Commission

In order to promote co-operation between the Parties in the development of the waters of the Rivers the Treaty, under article VIII, directs India and Pakistan to create a permanent post of Commissioner for Indus Waters and appoint a person who should ordinarily be a high-ranking engineer competent in the field of hydrology and water-use.
Each Commissioner will be the representative of his Government for all matters arising out of this Treaty, and will serve as the regular channel of communication on all matters relating to the implementation of the Treaty.
These commissioners will undertake, once in every five years, a general tour of inspection of the Rivers for ascertaining the facts connected with various developments and works on the Rivers.
The Commission shall meet regularly at least once a year, alternately in India and Pakistan. This regular annual meeting shall be held in November or in such other month as may be agreed upon between the Commissioners. The Commission shall also meet when requested by either Commissioner.

Settlement of Differences and Disputes
According to Article IX of the Treaty - Any question which arises between the Parties concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaty or in case a breach of the Treaty shall first be examined by the Commission, which will endeavour to resolve the question by agreement.
The treaty also provides an establishment of The Court of Arbitration to resolve the dispute between the Parties.
However, the Indus River originates from Tibet, China and this part does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Treaty.

External factors

  1. Indus originates from Tibet in China. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan.
  2. Climate change is causing melting of ice in Tibetan plateau, which scientists believe will affect the river in future.

Due to interpretation and implementation of the treaty and confrontation between India and Pakistan over the issues. There have been multiple disagreements and differences between both countries.
  1. In 1984 - Pakistan objected the construction, by India, of Tulbul barrage on Jhelum. India stops it unilaterally.
  2. In 2010 - Pakistan accuses India of choking water supply consistently, in response India pointed out that Pakistan’s own mismanagement of its scarce water resources is responsible for non-availability of water.
  3. In 2016 - In the aftermath of the Uri attack, that claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that “blood and water” couldn’t flow together and suspended India’s participation in the Permanent Indus Commission, 
  4. In 2019 - Following Pulwama terror attack Water Resources Minister (India) Nitin Gadkari said that India would use up its share of waters in the rivers flowing to Pakistan.

Utilization efforts by India
The Indus system of Rivers carry nearly 168 MAF average annual flows, of which India can utilize nearly 33 MAF (20% of total) from the assigned three eastern rivers.

However, India already utilises 95% of the 33 MAF (million acre feet) allotted to it under the norms of the Indus Waters Treaty and to consume the entire share the government has undertaken steps to stop the flow of almost 2 MAF from the Ravi river, from Madhopur.
These include completing the Shahpurkandi project, constructing the Ujh multipurpose project — to create 781 million cubic metre storage on the Ujh, a tributary of the Ravi — and developing the second Ravi-Beas link below Ujh.
The last project alone will utilise 0.58 MAF of surplus water below the Ujh dam by diverting the same to Beas basin. All three are ‘national projects.’