Indus Water Treaty – A Panel Discussion on Lok SabhaTV and an essay by Prof. Manohar Khushalani

Study on Water Management of the Indus River System
and its Implications for India’s Foreign Policy by Prof. Manohar Khushalani


Two-thirds of India’s water resources potential come from only two river basins namely, the Indus and Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM). India occupies a unique position in this respect. There is abundance of Water and Hydro Power potential within the country and in its neighbouring states. The potential can be used both constructively as well as destructively.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Tibet, all share the Ganga- Brahmaputra- Meghna River basin. The Indus River Basin is shared by Tibet, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan

Pakistanis complain that numerous new Indian projects on the Jhelum and Chenab will create substantial live storage even in run-of-the-river hydel dams. This will empower India to reduce flows to Pakistan during the crucial sowing season, something that actually happened for a couple of days when the Baglihar reservoir was filled by India after dam completion. If as a result of better coordination between the two countries the dam had been filled up during monsoons it would have actually helped Pakistan . Understanding each other’s needs and constraints the key.

The average supply of water that reaches Pakistan is 104 million acre feet while the water that is consumed is 70 million acre feet. “The mismanagement in Pakistan was resulting in the loss of 34 million acre feet of water”, informed Mr. Qureshi when asked by Pak media as to whether Pakistan had taken up the issue, in Thimphu , of India trying to block the flow of rivers.

The total area of the Indus Basin, the area draining the, Himalayan water into the Arabian Sea, is about 365,000 square miles (934,000, larger than Pakistan’s total area. The Indus River system consists mainly of the Indus River and its major eastern tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej Rivers. A number of rivers join the Indus on its west side. The largest is Kabul with its main tributary, the Swat River

The Indus Water Treaty is well known. The Treaty gave India exclusive use of waters of the eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. Pakistan was given those of the western rivers – the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab.The division of the Indus river waters is a parallel of the partition of land between India and Pakistan.

However it contained provisions for India to establish run-of- the-river power projects with limited reservoir capacity and flow control needed for feasible power generation. Availing the provision, India established several run-of-the-river projects most of which were not objected to by Pakistan. However, in case of Baglihar and Kishan-Ganga projects, Pakistan claimed that some design parameters were more lax than needed for power generation and provided India with excessive ability to accelerate, decelerate or block flow of river. This, it was felt, may give India a strategic leverage in times of tension or war.

During 1999-2004 India and Pakistan held several rounds of talks on the design of projects, but could not reach an agreement. After failure of talks on January 18, 2005 Pakistan raised six objections and took up the matter with the World Bank, which was a broker and signatory of Indus Water Treaty. In April 2005 the World Bank determined Pakistani claim as a ‘Difference’, a classification between less serious ‘Question’ and more serious ‘Dispute’ and in May 2005 appointed Professor Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss civil engineer, to adjudicate the difference.

Lafitte declared his final verdict on February 12, 2007, in which he partially upheld some objections of Pakistan declaring that pondage capacity be reduced by 13.5%, height of dam structure be reduced by 1.5 meter and power intake tunnels be raised by 3 meters, thereby limiting some flow control capabilities of earlier design. However he rejected Pakistani objections on height and gated control of spillway declaring these were conforming to engineering norms of the day.
Both parties (India and Pakistan) have already agreed that they will abide by the final verdict. This peaceful settlement of the only major discord in nearly half a century is an even greater achievement, considering the fact that the two neighbors have gone to war thrice on other issues.

On the flip side, according to one estimate, the Kabul river accounts for 20 to 30 MAF of total annual flows, the main Indus 100 MAF and the Jhelum and Chenab 60, while the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej add another 40 MAF or so. Looking at it mathematically, India gave far more water to Pakistan than it got. Secondly China has built Senge-tsangpo hydropower station with cap of 6400 mw tributaries and upper reaches of Indus in the Ngari Prefuncture of Tibet, with no objections raised by Pakistan.

India has made large investments in water infrastructure, much of which brings water to previously water-scarce areas and some of it diverts water from flood prone areas. This has resulted in an economic shift, with once-arid areas or previously flood prone zones becoming the centers of economic growth, while the traditionally well-watered areas have seen comparatively sluggish growth. For the most part the results of this “hydraulic infrastructure platform” have been spectacular both nationally (through the production of food grains and electricity, for example) and regionally (where such projects have generated large direct and equally large indirect economic benefits). The poor have benefited hugely from such investments. The incidence of poverty in irrigated districts is one third of that in unirrigated districts .

The privatisation of Power has also contributed to this growth. The Mushrooming growth of large scale Hydro Power companies such as JP Hydro, Larsen and Toubro, GVK Power, Tata Power have contributed to greater availability of this clean source of power. Partial privatization of public sector companies such as NHPC and Power Grid Corporation has improved the climate for this source of power. Even the hitherto coal and gas based power generators such as NTPC have turned to Hydro Power. This augurs well for hydropower in India.

The first decade of the millennium has been marked by what has often been described as oil wars – confrontation over dwindling hydrocarbon fuel resources. Will the next decade be marked by confrontation over water and hydro energy, or will it be known for cooperation over sharing the natural resources?

How India manages its relations with its neighbours is going to be a key to the kind of economic progress it can make along its borders. Water is a key issue in its relationship with its neighbours. Even though it is a renewable resource it cannot be denied that fresh water is a dwindling resource. The key to India’s relationship with Pakistan, which have been largely conflict ridden, is a sharing of the waters of the Indus Basin, which could in fact be considered to be one of the success stories and perhaps an example for the rest of the world about how seemingly intractable bones of contention can be resolved through a rational and conciliatory approach.

Instead of going through the complications of assessing water requirement downstream of each of the rivers, a metaphorical knife was used to cut off and hand over three rivers to Pakistan and three to India. On the face of it, since all the six rivers of the Indus Basin run first through India and then go to Pakistan it seemed to be a brilliant stroke of statesmanship – an apparently visionary approach which made India willingly part with three of the six rivers even while it retained the right to draw power through run of the river schemes on those three rivers. Has the policy worked successfully only because India might have given more than it got? Out of the three bilateral issues, namely one in Baglihar, a conflict of interest arose which was resolved amicably. What about the other pending bones of contention namely the Tulbul Navigation Project and the 330MW Kishenganga Project? The negotiations stalled for long.
The unprecedented 2010 floods in Pakistan may have abated but the havoc caused by them have cast an unimaginable havoc on its economy. Conservative September estimates suggested that over 2000 persons had died and 21 million became refugees in their own country. Secondary damages to agricultural land and animal husbandry will take years to recoup. At one point about one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area had gone under water. Flood waters had destroyed crops; an estimated 700,000 acres of cotton, 200,000 acres each of rice and sugar cane and 300,000 acres of wheat. This heavily impacted the agricultural economy which contributed 20.4% of Pakistan’s GDP in the earlier year. The cascading effect into industry and trade is has added to its economic woes.
Scientists have described this catastrophe as a once-in-a-century flood. Out of a Population of 168 million nearly 21 milion people have been affected by floods out of a total area of Pakistan of 796 095 square kilometers, the Flood-affected area is 160 000 square kilometers. In a country where already a large percentage of the population is living as refugees, an additional 1.85 million homes have been destroyed or damaged due to floods.
Pakistan is, thus at a fork in the road. It can either continue confrontationist policies which underlie present arrangements (or lack thereof) and face similar or perhaps bigger flood disasters in future, if anticipated climate change effects do materialise. Or it can chose to cooperate with countries in the Indus basin with a view to building an integrated system of storage dams, flood control installations and power generation stations which will help to modulate flows and avert floods, thereby benefitting Pakistan’s agriculture particularly its struggling farmers. The attendant hydropower potential is also huge and can be tapped for the energy-hungry Pakistani economy, as well as cross-border sales to India. The big question is whether the Pakistan’s rulers can change their confrontationist mindset to make this possible. If there was no deficit of trust India could have stored water even in the eastern rivers of the Indus basin to be used as a kind of buffer during floods. But, for that an integrated basin management is required, because the mighty rivers, follow their own course, they do not recognize man made political boundaries

For that a reality check is required in both the countries. A recent example of this was a very honest admission in 2010 by the former Pakistan Foreign Minister. While it is this kind of statesmanship and honesty that will help in getting a fresh look at this issue, on the other hand the sacking of the Pakistan’s Indus Commissioner, Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, who amongst other reasons was also discredited for making a similar pragmatic observation and the departure from Government of the pragmatic Shah Mehmood Qureshi, perhaps, indicates that moderates in Pakistan may not be able to mellow the debate.

There is a very good logic in understanding the socio-economic needs of the entire region namely Kashmir, Punjab in India and Pakistan, Pakhtoonkhwa, Sindh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Assessing the genuine needs of populace in the two countries and trying to involve a cross border management plan for the entire region could perhaps become a key to breaking down the borders between the two countries and expanding the scope of cooperation in the region. Is it possible to achieve the impossible? But this is what all dreams are made of.

Of late, Pakistani militants, for lack of issues which could build up anti India sentiment, have started to focus on the Water as a contentious issue. It is therefore important to bring down the rhetoric by using an objective approach.

It will research long term implications for Indus basin countries (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) in terms of water availability (for agriculture and individual consumption), hydropower, downstream economic impact , and social, political & security effects under (a) the present dispensation and (b) an optimally integrated river management along the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority .

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