India’s call to modify the Indus Waters Treaty
Why has India asked for changes in the 63-year-old treaty? What have been Pakistan’s concerns regarding the Kishenganga hydropower project and the Ratle hydropower project in Kashmir? What has the International Court of Arbitration ruled?
The story so far:
In a notice to Pakistan on January 25, India said that it has been compelled to call for the ‘modification’ of the 63-year-old Indus Waters Treaty owing to Pakistan’s persistent objections regarding India’s Kishenganga (KHEP) and Ratle hydropower projects in Kashmir.
What is the Indus Waters Treaty?
In 1947, the line of partition, aside from delineating geographical boundaries for India and Pakistan, also cut the Indus river system into two. Both sides were dependent on water from the Indus river basin to keep their irrigation infrastructure functional and therefore, equitable distribution was needed. In 1951, when both the countries applied to the World Bank for funding their respective irrigation projects on Indus and its tributaries, the World Bank offered to mediate the conflict. Finally in 1960, an agreement was reached between the two countries, and the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. The former Vice President of the World Bank, W. A. B. Iliff, also signed it.
What are some of its key provisions?
The Indus river basin has six rivers — Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — originating from Tibet and flowing through the Himalayan ranges to enter Pakistan, ending in the south of Karachi.
The treaty prescribed how water from the six rivers would be shared between India and Pakistan. It allocated the three western rivers — Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — to Pakistan for unrestricted use, barring certain non-consumptive, agricultural and domestic uses by India. Similarly, the three Eastern rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — were allocated to India for unrestricted usage. It also required both the countries to establish a Permanent Indus Commission constituted by permanent commissioners from both sides. The functions of the commission include serving as a forum for exchange of information on the rivers and as a first stop for the resolution of conflicts. Annexure D of the IWT allows India to build ‘run of the river’ hydropower projects (projects which do not require live storage of water). The treaty also allows Pakistan to raise objections over such projects being built, if it does not find them to be compliant with the rules.
What are Pakistan’s objections over the Kishenganga and Ratle projects?
Kishenganga, a tributary of the Jhelum river, originates in J&K and joins the river in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The work for KHEP started in 2007, with a proposal to build a dam on the Kishenganga, diverting its water for a 330 MW hydropower plant in Kashmir’s Bandipora and sending it back. The work for the project was supposed to be completed by 2016, but before the construction started, Pakistan had raised objections regarding the height of the dam, fearing it would mean increased water storage for India. Consequently, India agreed to alter the design by lowering its height from 97 metres to 37 metres. In 2010, Pakistan took the matter to the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague, this time, objecting to the diversion of water from Kishanganga. The Court gave India a green signal for the project (subject to conditions) in its final ruling in 2013. The conflict however, did not end here, with Pakistan approaching the World Bank three years later in 2016 and again in 2018, objecting to the design. It also tried to stop the construction of the dam in 2016 by firing shells near the dam site. The project was however, finally inaugurated in 2018. As for India’s 850 megawatt Ratle hydroelectric power project on the Chenab river, Islamabad has repeatedly raised concerns over its design, insisting that India would use the project’s reservoir to create deliberate and artificial water shortage or cause flooding in Pakistan. India’s new call for modification of the Treaty comes from what it describes as Pakistani “intransigence” over its implementation.
India says that the dispute over the two projects has been brewing since 2015, when Pakistan asked for the appointment of a Neutral Expert (NE) to look into its objections to the Ratle and Kishenganga projects. Later in 2016, Pakistan changed its request and requested that the Arbitration Court should examine the issue. India followed this up by sending its own request to appoint an NE. India now alleges that by unilaterally changing its request from one dispute resolution mechanism to another, Islamabad has violated the IWT. Besides, the World Bank recently moved to act on both requests. Indian sources told The Hindu that “such parallel considerations on the same issues” were not covered under any provision of the IWT. To resolve the long-standing dispute, India has called for the Treaty’s modification so that Pakistan is provided an opportunity to initiate “intergovernmental negotiations” within 90 days regarding the differences that the Indian side has described as a “material breach”.
In a notice to Pakistan on January 25, India said that it has been compelled to call for the ‘modification’ of the 63-year-old Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) owing to Pakistan’s persistent objections over India’s Kishenganga (KHEP) and Ratle hydropower projects.
The IWT prescribes how water from the six rivers of the Indus would be shared between India and Pakistan. Annexure D of the IWT allows India to build ‘run of the river’ hydropower projects (projects which do not require live storage of water). Pakistan is allowed to raise objections over such projects being built, if it does not find them to be compliant with the rules.
The work for the Kishenganga project started in 2007, to be completed by 2016. However, Pakistan kept raising objections regarding the height of the dam and later its design. As for India’s 850 megawatt Ratle hydroelectric power project on the Chenab river, Islamabad has repeatedly raised concerns over its design.