- Even though there are many internal and external criticisms, IWT has managed to survive several wars and military standoffs between India and Pakistan.
- By hindering economic growth, the IWT has increased the domestic dispute over Kashmir. Kashmiris have grievances against the pact since it forbids India from using the western rivers for cultivation, hydroelectric generation, or navigation.
- The scientific community in India emphasizes the need for additional research and evaluations as a basis for debates on transboundary water management in the country.
- The treaty offers outdated technical guidance that is unable to address the ongoing technological disputes with Indus.
- The IWT is a permanent agreement that has no expiration date, in contrast to treaties like the 1964 Columbia River Treaty between the US and Canada, which allows either of its signatories to choose to renegotiate it after 50 years.
India and Pakistan signed a water-sharing agreement in 1960 to peacefully share the waters of the Indus Basin. The uncertain water-sharing scenario between the two countries that had existed since the 1947 partition came to an end with this agreement. Of the several transboundary water agreements, the treaty has been a landmark agreement. It has survived successive wars and military standoffs between India and Pakistan despite numerous internal criticisms.
India has recently submitted a formal notice to the government of Pakistan via the Indus Commissioners inviting a round of review of the treaty after observing it for many years. Article XII of the IWT’s Final Provisions permits “a properly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two governments” to modify the treaty “from time to time.” In the notice, India outlined several treaty-related issues that had either not been addressed or were being interpreted differently by the two parties. The primary topics of the next discussion will be, in particular, the treaty’s conflict resolution mechanism, environmental protection principles, and adaptability to technological advancements.
First of all, the treaty’s conflict settlement process sounds simple. Any violation of the treaty must first be reviewed by the Indus Commission, according to Article IX of the agreement. If the Commission is unable to come to a consensus, either a neutral expert or an arbitration court will handle the issue. When one party wants an arbitration court and the other wants a neutral expert, a problem arises. During the Kishanganga and Rattle HEP trials, this is what took place. According to Article IX, any breach of the Treaty shall first be examined by the Commission. A difference will be considered to have occurred if the Commission cannot agree on any of the questions, and it will be resolved as follows: A neutral expert will handle it at either commissioner’s request. If the disagreement is unlikely to be resolved by dialogue or mediation, a court of arbitration shall be created to determine it following the parties. India was granted the right to “non-consumptive” usage under the Indus Waters Treaty, but Pakistan “has virtually prevented India from exploiting the non-consumptive uses, hydropower in particular, effectively.”
By hindering economic growth, the IWT has increased the domestic dispute over Kashmir. Kashmiris have grievances against the pact since it forbids India from using the western rivers for cultivation, hydroelectric generation, or navigation. There may be room for India and Pakistan to lessen their reliance on Indus waters if possible changes in the economic structure of the basin take place, such as a widespread move away from water-intensive agriculture. Power deficits: In Pakistan and north-western India, intensive urban economic expansion has resulted in electricity shortfalls (manifested as “load shedding,” or planned blackouts), which is likely to increase friction over water.
The current regional precipitation patterns that support the basin’s water resources are in danger of being disrupted by global warming, which would change the seasonal timing and spatial distribution of rain and snow. The Indus depends more than any other significant river system on the mountain glaciers that surround its headwaters. In the Indus Basin, meltwater makes up around 35–40% of the overall flow, with almost equal contributions from seasonal snowmelt and glacial runoff. Indus Basin glaciers are thought to have lost 7 billion metric tonnes of ice annually between 2003 and 2008, according to recent analyses. Initially, increased melting can increase river flows, escalating the risk of flooding. Meltwater flows will decrease as deglaciation progresses, reducing the downstream resources available for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, hydropower, industry, and ecosystems.
Each year, wastewater from towns, farms, and industry flows into the Indus. The IWT offers only a hortatory clause expressing the parties’ “intention” to prevent excessive contamination “as far as practical,” with no specific or legally obligatory provisions regarding water quality (Art. 4).
The flow downstream has significantly diminished over the past 60 years, and as a result, flood plains have sucked up fresh water flowing to mangroves and diverted it for use in agriculture, industry, and reservoirs. As a result, there are now only about 100 MT of the 400 MT of nutrient-rich soil that once yearly fed the delta. Fisheries that are dying off, coastal erosion, the destruction of mangroves, and a rise in seawater intrusion are some additional potentially severe effects. Due to the existence of a distinct knowledge system dominated by engineers, these issues were not taken into account during the IWT negotiations.
Only the Indus River system in Pakistan and India is home to the freshwater cetacean known as the Indus River dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor). Dolphins were present along 3500 km of the Indus River system before the Indus Irrigation System’s development. Due to the barrages’ fragmentation of the river habitat and the widespread water diversion for irrigated agriculture, their range has already shrunk by 80%. In 2011, it was estimated that there were roughly 1450 members of the subspecies, which has six subpopulations, three of which are probably too tiny to survive. Dolphin movement via barrages must be evaluated immediately because doing so could wipe out upstream subpopulations. Priorities for research and conservation include preserving river flows, observing mortality, rescuing animals from canals, and community-based conservation.
Although the majority think more research is required, others think that issues related to climate change should be already covered by the treaty. We can then address it independently, not necessarily needing to revise the treaty until there is a reasonable body of research available on the implications of climate change in the Indus Basin.
The scientific community in India emphasizes the need for additional research and evaluations as a basis for debates on transboundary water management in the country.
Although individual Indian projects may comply with the terms of the IWT, many analysts contend that stringing several dams on the western tributaries will have negative cumulative effects downstream. This is because the IWT does not require systematic aggregate impact evaluations. Many people in Pakistan are also concerned that when more installations are added, Delhi will be able to control river flows to a greater extent, thereby suffocating Pakistan’s economy. India responds that Pakistan’s water problems are the result of Pakistani mismanagement and that its construction projects on the western rivers are “run-of-the-river” structures, meaning they are unable to impound large amounts of water. The treaty offers outdated technical guidance that is unable to address the ongoing technical issues with Indus. There are several disagreements regarding the western rivers of the Indus. They result from the treaty’s ambiguous language and basic requirements. To prevent impediments to the course of progress, we require an updated, state-of-the-art treaty.
Beyond governing relations on the Indus, the treaty’s larger significance is essentially symbolic. The pact served as a reminder that the leaders of India and Pakistan might cooperate to find reasonable solutions to issues affecting their countries’ relations. The geology of the Indus Basin’s riverine region and the unforeseen political events that led to the treaty’s creation served as its foundation. Some commentators foresee a potentially violent conflict, possibly “water wars,” between India and Pakistan as the basin’s fresh water supply declines and the demand rises. The Treaty’s fragmented or divided governance runs counter to the principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM), which is promoted by hydrologists, environmentalists, and engineers who contend that basin states must respect the interdependence of various users and recognize the watershed as an ecological whole to provide riparians with a collective good. Since the treaty is a static technical document, it cannot address contemporary, complicated problems like climate change and sustainable development.
IWT’s lack of adaptation is a downside. The IWT is a permanent agreement that has no expiration date, in contrast to treaties like the 1964 Columbia River Treaty between the US and Canada, which allows either of its signatories to choose to renegotiate it after 50 years. Article XII of the IWT’s Final Provisions stipulates that “a validly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two governments” must be signed for the treaty to be changed. This remains the challenge.
J Cathrine, MRC Research Fellow
Cathrine is a research fellow at the Maritime Research Centre in Pune, where she is doing work on water management in the Indus Basin. Her research focuses on transboundary water issues, conflict resolution, sustainable water management, and community resilience. She graduated from St. Stephens College in Delhi with a bachelor’s degree in physics. She has also completed Ashoka University’s Young India Fellowship in Liberal Arts. She has completed her Masters in Water Science and Policy from Shiv Nadar University.