Indus Water Treaty at 60
19 September 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan, a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship. The World Bank, which, as the third party, played a pivotal role in crafting the IWT, continues to take particular pride that the treaty functions. The role of India, as a responsible upper riparian abiding by the provisions of the treaty, has been remarkable but the country, of late, is under pressure to rethink the extent to which it can remain committed to the provisions, as its overall political relations with Pakistan becomes intractable.
- The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.
- The three ‘western rivers’ (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) went to Pakistan and the three ‘eastern rivers’ (Sutlej, Ravi and Beas) were portioned to India.
- Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80.52 per cent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
- India conceded its upper riparian position on the western rivers for the complete rights on the eastern rivers.
- Water was critical for India’s development plans. It was vital, therefore, to get the waters of the ‘eastern rivers’ for the proposed Rajasthan canal and the Bhakra Dam without which both Punjab and Rajasthan would be left dry, severely hampering India’s food production.
- Jawaharlal Nehru, while inaugurating the Bhakra Canals in 1963, described it as “a gigantic achievement and a symbol of the nation’s energy and enterprise”.
- In Pakistan, however, it was an occasion of strong resentment, grieving that India got away with the total flow of 33 million acre-feet on the eastern rivers “virtually for a song”. Nehru was always conscious that the Bhakra Canals should not be at the cost of reduced water supplies to Pakistan.
- However, he was also very clear that India’s interest on the eastern rivers should be protected, hoping that the two countries should someday come to live “amicably and cordially as the United States and Canada live in North America”.