Dr Ganesh Malhotra
Indus Water Treaty which regulates the sharing of water between two neighbouring countries India and Pakistan was signed in Karachi on 19 September 1960 by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then President of Pakistan Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan.
Indus Waters Treaty was signed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 with Pakistan President Ayub Khan to buy peace at a time when tension between India and China was going out of hand.
Nehru virtually gifted to Pakistan 80 percent of the water, amounting to some 5,900 tmcft every year. One can imagine how huge a quantity this is that the Supreme Court’s order to Karnataka to release 3.8 tmcft of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu has created so much violence.
World leaders gave Nehru a standing ovation for his “generosity”. Nehru called it a “goodwill” gesture. But over time, Nehru’s thoughtless action has hurt the economic interests of the country in general, and Jammu and Kashmir in particular.
Even the role of World Bank has not been fair in the inherently unequal Treaty. The Bank served as the agent of Pakistan to partition the Indus-system rivers floating the negotiating rules and ramming it down India’s throat. India’s full sovereignty rights were limited to the smallest three of the six rivers.
Since then, World Bank support enabled Pakistan not only to complete mega-dams but also to sustain its ‘water war’ strategy against India by invoking international interference repeatedly. Now, in response to Pakistan’s complaint over two midsized Indian hydropower projects, the World Bank has initiated two concurrent processes that mock the IWT’s provisions for resolving disputes between the parties bilaterally. It is appointing both a court of arbitration (as sought by Pakistan) and a neutral expert (as suggested by India), while admitting that “pursuing two concurrent processes under the treaty could make it unworkable over time”.
According to the treaty the Pakistan is to enjoy exclusive use of three Western Rivers Viz., Indus, Jhehlum and Chenab. More than 70% of water used for irrigation of cultivable lands in
Pakistan which produce 90% food grains and contribute 1/4th to its national GDP, flows into Pakistan from J&K. More than 60% of foreign exchange earnings of Pakistan are attributable to the Indus basin. At the same time India shall have exclusive rights for use of water on the three Eastern rivers along with water of it’s tributaries viz. Satluj, Beas and Ravi.
An important point is that with the ratification of this treaty Pakistan has recognized the sovereignty of India over the state of Jammu & Kashmir and has agreed to terms and conditions with India over the sharing of water passing through the J&K State. India failed to assert this technical point with regard to India’s claim over J&K in International arena.
India took its rights also very lightly despite water shortages triggering bitter relations between Punjab and some other states. India has failed to tap even the allocated 19.48% share of the Indus Basin resources.
For example, the waters of the three India-earmarked rivers not utilized by India aggregate to 10.37 billion cubic metres (BCM) yearly. This bonus outflows to Pakistan giving more water to Pakistan. Although the Treaty permits India to store 4.4 BCM of waters from the Pakistan-reserved Rivers, a careless India has built no storage. And despite the treaty allowing India to build hydropower plants with no dam reservoir, its total installed generating capacity in J&K currently does not equal the size of a single new dam in Pakistan like the 4,500-megawatt Diamer-Bhasha.
Several projects that India had planned for the western rivers were stalled due to Pakistan’s objections. All these projects are in the state of J&K. There is huge resentment in the state as restrictions placed on India in relation to the western rivers make it virtually impossible to derive any benefits through irrigation, hydroelectric power and navigation. There have been several calls by the state to scrap the IWT. In the year 2003, a unanimous resolution was passed by J&K state assembly calling for the abrogation of the IWT. Respecting the sentiments of the people of J&K, India can abrogate the IWT, signalling to the world that it is not business as usual with Pakistan.
State of Jammu and Kashmir in spite of being the upstream area, has suffered due to restrictions placed by the Treaty on the unhindered usage of its river waters of Jhelum Chenab and Indus. The irony of the matter is that the State being rich in its hydel resources has been facing a perennial problem of shortage of hydro-electric power, more particularly during winter months and due to the dry spell in the valley.
The shortage of power in the State has not only been causing problems for domestic consumption, but has also been inhibiting the growth of industry and agriculture. During the past forty years, since the Indus Treaty was signed, there has been sizeable increase in the State’s population and standards of living. Simultaneously, the State has witnessed a big leap in demand for electricity. As such there have been fundamental changes in the ground situation, so far as the actual power requirement of the State for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses, is concerned.
Similarly, work on the construction of Tulbul Navigation Project started by the J&K government in 1984 in order to raise the level of water in the Wullar lake for facilitating transport on the river Jhelum, was stopped in 1988 after India accepted Benazir Bhutto’s demands and stopped construction work at the Tulbul project.
Tulbul Project would not diminish or change the flow of water to Pakistan, it would keep the Jhelum river navigable for a considerable stretch thereby bringing economic benefits to the people in the valley. This project could provide a cheap mode of transport to the fruit growers in north Kashmir and thus transform the region’s economy. The existing dam in the Salal project is full of silt upto three fourths of its 400 feet height, which needs to flushed out urgently in order to let the project run. India had earlier agreed to Pakistan-dictated terms on the Salal project, which led to very high siltation levels affecting power generation sharply.
Given its success in forcing India to abandon the construction work on Tulbul Navigation Project in 1987 and also in obstructing the construction of anti-siltation sluices at the Salal Hydel Project, Pakistan now created a controversy over the construction of the Baglihar Dam on the Chenab river but India succeeded this time.
The role of World Bank is not justified because World Bank has always acted beyond its mandate in Indus Water treaty and India also accepted it which gave it apparent legitimacy.
There has been growing concern and anger in Jammu and Kashmir over the negative consequences of the Indus Treaty for the State. Both the official and public circles in J&K State have been pleading for a review of this Treaty, so that the legitimate water requirements of J&K State for hydel power generation, deepening of rivers for navigation purposes, erecting protective bunds for floods and building adequate water reserves for irrigation are fulfilled.
Besides its one-sided nature, there are many good reasons why India must announce its exit from the treaty. The Treaty which has been in force for more than 45 years, has added to the economic woes of the people of upstream Jammu and Kashmir State by depriving them of the legitimate right to full usage of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus waters for hydro-electric generation, irrigation, navigation and other purposes. As such there is sufficient ground for reviewing the Indus Treaty, so that it is turned into a resilient one after making necessary modifications and adjustments, which can take care of the substantial changes in the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Government of India should J&K in the shape of financial and technical assistance so that estimated potential of around 20000 mega watts can be utilised.
Certain actions showing the assertiveness of India has started unfolding. Looking to fully exploit its rights under IWT, a high-level inter-ministerial task force had in December 2016 decided to bring Punjab and J&K on board for speeding up work on the ground through better coordination. Accordingly, both the states agreed to resume work on Shahpur Kandi dam project. Though it would be constructed as per agreed design, a model study will concurrently be done to ensure that the mandated share of 1,150 cusecs of water is available to J&K, which will be binding on both the states.
Besides the Shahpur Kandi dam project, the task force had in December, 2016 also prioritised the proposed hydro-power projects on Chenab and its tributary – Sawalkot (1,856 MW), Pakal Dul (1,000 MW) and Bursar (800 MW) – for execution in a time-bound manner.
There have been several calls by the state to scrap the Treaty. In the year 2003, a unanimous resolution was passed by J&K state assembly calling for the abrogation of the Treaty. If Pakistan has not respected water for peace accord then respecting the sentiments of the people of J&K, India should abrogate or review the Treaty, signalling to the world that if India can show goodwill gesture, at the same time India can assert its position also. If India does so it can be game changer in South Asia. Pakistan will be compelled to toe to lines of India particularly cross-border terrorism and its unholy alliance with China in Indian territory of Gilgit-Baltistan and POJK.