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Reviewing the Indus Water Treaty

Updated on December 24, 2016

Partition of Indo-Pak Sub-continent in 1947 was a political construct and did not take into consideration the distribution of natural resources. It resulted in a precarious division of the IndusBasin as well, placing the upper reaches of all its rivers with India. The Indians exploited the geographical advantage at the first opportune moment and closed the water supplies to all Pakistani canals off-taking from Madhopur and Ferozepur Headworks. The matter was resolved in 1960 through Indus Water Treaty with the help of World Bank. However, notwithstanding the provisions of treaty, India has been continuously enhancing her capacity of water manipulation through construction of water regulation structures on Indus Basin Rivers. The Indian water regulation capacity has not only serious implications on conduct of offensive and defensive operations by Pakistan but it also has direct bearing on socio-economic spheres.

Indus River System. The Indus System of Rivers comprises Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Sutlej and forms the lifeline of one of the largest irrigation network in the world. Mean annual flow of IndusBasin and its Tributaries is 168-176 MAF. The total catchment area of all the rivers is about 3, 64, 700 square miles.

Indus Basin Water Treaty – 1960. At the time of Independence, the boundary line between India and Pakistan was drawn without any regard to the existing irrigation works, placing upper reaches of all its rivers with India. The water dispute began when India cut off the water supplies in every canal crossing into Pakistan on April 1, 1948. After failure of talks between the two countries, President of the World Bank intervened in 1951 and the dispute was finally resolved through Indus Water Treaty which was signed at Karachi on 19th September, 1960. The treaty fixed and delimited the rights and obligations of India and Pakistan concerning the use of the waters. All waters of the eastern rivers namely Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were allocated to India for unrestricted use. All waters of the three western rivers namely Indus, Jhelum and Chenab were allocated to Pakistan except some specified uses by India in occupied Kashmir.

Indian Hydraulic Structures and Water Regulation Capacity. Exploiting the provisions of the treaty to her advantage, India has constructed a number of hydraulic structures over Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej. India has attained a considerable capability to manipulate the waters of these Rivers as the hydraulic structures, by default, have provided India the capability to either release excessive water or stop it altogether.

River Indus. It is not yet possible for India to regulate River Indus.

b. River Jhelum. Presently the Indian water regulation capacity on River Jhelum is negligible. However, construction of Tulbal Navigation Project and Kishan Ganga Hydro Electric Project will enable India to manipulate 27 % water of River Jhelum.

c. River Chenab. India has constructed a number of hydraulic structures over this river. The hydraulic structures include, Dulhasti Hydro Electric Project with storage capacity of 8600 AF, Baglihar Hydro-Electric Project (proposed) with designed storage capacity of 0.164 MAF and Salal Dam with storage capacity of 2.30 MAF. Presently, water holding capacity of India through Dul Hasti and Salal Dams is for 12 x days; Baglihar project would however, increase it to 25 -26 days.

River Ravi. India has completely controlled the water of eastern rivers and there is very little seepage flow down stream of Madhopur on River Ravi. The hydraulic structures include, Chamera Hydropower Plant with storage capacity of 90,000 AF, Thein Dam with live storage of 1.9 MAF, Shahpur Kundi Dam with designed storage capacity of 13,000 AF and Madhopur Headwork with discharge capacity of 6,25,000 cusecs.

e. River Beas. River Beas is completely regulated by India through various hydraulic structures. These include Pong Dam with a storage capacity of 5.60 MAF, Pandoh Dam with storage capacity of 15,039 AF, Shah Nehar Barrage with pondage capacity of 3400 AF and discharge capacity of 390,000 cusecs. This River does not enter Pakistan, however, effects of its inflow are seen in River Sutlej, to which it merges at Harrike.

River Sutlej. India has achieved almost total control of the water of River Sutlej flowing downstream of Hussainiwala Headwork. The hydraulic structures include Bhakra Dam with live storage capacity of 5.72 MAF, Nangal Dam with live storage capacity of 24, 000 AF, Rupar Barrage with designed discharge capacity of 3, 50,000 cusecs, Harrike Headwork with designed discharge capacity of 6, 50,000 cusecs and Hussainiwala Headwork with designed discharge capacity of 3, 50,000 cusecs. With the available hydraulic structures and total storage capacity of 11.68 MAF of Sutlej and Beas, Indians can release additional discharge from Pong and Bhakra Dams without affecting its off taking canals. India can easily sustain any flow from 25,000 to 75,000 cusecs for 22-30 days. India can also inundate large areas inside Pakistan through high floods for a period of 5 to 23 days.

The present/projected Indian water regulation capability poses a serious threat to Pakistan’s economy and security. However, mal-regulation of water has also certain serious implications for India as well, which poses limitations on practical manifestation of this capability.

Implications for Pakistan. Socio-economic implications include social Implications/effects on provincial harmony, economic implications, effects on various hydropower projects and Hydro Electric Production. The operational implications include effects on defensive and offensive operations.

Options Available and Recommendations. Pertinent options to offset the ill effects of Indian water regulation with following recommendations:-

Indus Water Treaty. Indus Water Treaty provides sufficient safeguards against Indian water manipulation capability with World Bank as signatory to the treaty. Pakistan must make use of all national potentials to ensure implementation of the treaty.

b. New Reservoirs. While the President of Pakistan has already announced construction of Basha and Munda Dams, It is recommended that Kalabagh and other feasible dams should also be constructed at priority.

c. Lining of Canals and Water Channels. Lining of canals and distributaries should be carried out to save more than 8.6 MAF of available irrigation water.

d. Improvement in Farm Application Efficiency. Out of 58 MAF water delivered at farm gate, 30% is lost in field. All fields are recommended to be lazar leveled and be irrigated through bed and furrow methods instead of flooding.

God has gifted Pakistan with abundant water resources. However, the Indian water regulation capability coupled with Pakistan’s failure to enhance its water storage capacity has not only resulted into acute water shortage but is also affecting the provincial harmony. To offset the disadvantages of Indian water regulation capacity and resultant water shortage, concerted efforts are required at the national. There is a dire need to evolve a comprehensive strategy to overcome the problem and to ensure that Indus Water Treaty is implemented by India in letter and spirit. There is also a need to create awareness amongst the masses to adopt modern irrigation and agricultural techniques to conserver the water resources and specially to build political consensus for construction of new reservoirs / dams.


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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      23 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative article on a situation that can cause a water war between the two giants.


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