The Shape of Water – Indus Water Treaty | 30th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the recent developments between India and Pakistan regarding the Indus Water Treaty.


  • GS2: India and its Neighborhood- Relations;
  • GS1: Indian Geography;
  • Prelims


  • In a recent notice to Pakistan, India sought modification of the Indus Waters Treaty following Pakistan’s repeated objections to India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower projects in Kashmir.
  • India also protested Pakistan’s “unilateral” decision to approach a court of arbitration at The Hague.
  • The government had written to Pakistan, calling for modifications to the treaty as per Article XII (3) of the IWT that deals with the “final provisions” of the treaty.
  • The first hearing of the Pakistani case at the Permanent Court of Arbitrage at The Hague in the Netherlands began on Friday, with India boycotting the court process.

What Indus Water Treaty, 1960?

  • The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, arranged and negotiated by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries.
  • It was signed in Karachi on 19 September 1960 by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistani president Ayub Khan.
  • The Treaty gives control over the waters of
    • the three “eastern rivers” — the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej with a mean annual flow of 41 billion m3 (33 million acre⋅ft) — to India,
    • while control over the waters of the three “western rivers” — the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum with a mean annual flow of 99 billion m3 — to Pakistan.
  • India has about 20% of the total water carried by the Indus system while Pakistan has 80%.
  • The treaty allows India to use the western river waters for limited irrigation use and unlimited non-consumptive use for such applications as power generation, navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.
  • It lays down detailed regulations for India in building projects over the western rivers.
  • The preamble of the treaty recognises the rights and obligations of each country in the optimum use of water from the Indus system in a spirit of goodwill, friendship and cooperation.
  • It also required both the countries to establish a Permanent Indus Commission constituted by permanent commissioners on both sides.

Dispute resolution mechanism as given in the Treaty:

  • The IWT also provides a three-step dispute resolution mechanism:
  • Step I: under which “Questions” on both sides can be resolved at the Permanent Commission, or can also be taken up at the inter-government level.
  • Step II: 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.
  • Step III: And eventually, if either party is not satisfied with the NE’s decision or in case of “disputes” in the interpretation and extent of the treaty, matters can be referred to a Court of Arbitration.
  • IWT does not have a unilateral exit provision and is supposed to remain in force unless both the countries ratify another mutually agreed pact.

About the disputed projects:

  • Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project:
    • The Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric scheme in Kashmir, India.
    • Its dam diverts water from the Kishanganga River (also called the Neelum River) to a power plant in the Jhelum River basin.
    • Construction on the project began in 2007.Pakistan objected to the project arguing that it will affect the flow of the Kishanganga River.
    • The Kishenganga was constructed after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in India’s favour. But Pakistan continues to object to it.
  • Ratle Hydroelectric Project:
    • It is a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River, Kishtwar district of the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • In June 2013, the then Indian Prime Minister laid the foundation stone for the dam.
    • Pakistan has frequently alleged that it violates the Indus Water Treaty, 1960.


  • The IWT is the only agreement between India and Pakistan that has stood the test of time, through wars and terrorism.
  • Underlying the treaty is the principle that water does not recognise international boundaries and upper riparians have a responsibility to lower riparians.
  • While the treaty does provide for modification “from time to time”, it has to do so by means of “a duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two Governments”.
  • In 2021, a parliamentary committee had asked for a renegotiation of the IWT, given present day exigencies such as the impact of climate change on water availability in the Indus basin.
  • Given the record though, it is questionable if the two countries today have the political will and the inclination to arrive at an agreement to replace the IWT for the sharing of the waters.
  • More likely, the issue will fester and grow into another active pressure point in India-Pakistan relations.
  • This conclusion is inescapable given how already, on the Pakistani side, accusations are made with increasing frequency that India has “turned off the water”, and on this side, the view is growing that India has been too generous in the IWT.

Way Forward:

  • Using water as a weapon is never a good idea. It would be so much better for both countries to treat the IWT as an instrument for collaboration on climate action in the fragile Himalayan region.

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