Feb. 25, 2019


  • The Indus system comprises of main Indus River, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The basin is mainly shared by India and Pakistan with a small share for China and Afghanistan. 

  • Under the Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank, was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, all the waters of three rivers, namely Ravi, Sutlej and Beas (Eastern Rivers) averaging around 33 million-acre feet (MAF) were allocated to India for exclusive use. 

  • The waters of Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab (Western rivers) averaging to around 135 MAF were allocated to Pakistan except for specified domestic, non-consumptive and agricultural use permitted to India. India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run of the river (RoR) projects on the Western Rivers which. 

Recent development: 

  • In the aftermath of terror attacks from Pakistan, Government of India has decided to stop share of water which used to flow to Pakistan by diverting water from Eastern rivers and supply it to people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. 

  • About 2 MAF of water annually from Ravi is reported to be still flowing unutilized to Pakistan below Madhopur. To stop the flow of these waters, following steps have been taken: 
    • Resumption of Construction of Shahpurkandi project: This project will help in utilizing the waters coming out from powerhouse of Thein dam to irrigate 37000 hectares of land in J&K and Punjab and generate 206 MW of power. 

    • Construction of Ujh multipurpose project: This project will create a storage of about 781 million cu m of water on river Ujh, a tributary of Ravi for irrigation and power generation in districts of J&K. 

    • The 2nd Ravi Beas link below Ujh: This project is being planned to tap excess water flowing to Pakistan through by constructing a barrage across river Ravi for diverting water through a tunnel link to Beas basin. 

Uri Attack: 

  • The policy direction had, in fact, changed more than two years earlier — in the wake of another terrorist attack, on an Army camp in Uri in September 2016. 

  • Since the terrorist attack in Uri in 2016, India has worked to ensure it utilises its full claim under the Indus Waters Treaty. Several stalled projects have been revived, and many have been put on the fast track. 

  • After the Uri attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that “blood and water” could not flow together, and India had temporarily suspended regular meetings of the Indus Commissioners of the two countries. 

  • A high-level task force was set up under the stewardship of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to ensure that India makes full use of the waters it is entitled to under the Treaty. 

  • Officials say more than 30 projects are under various stages of implementation on the Western rivers, having got the final approvals. Many of them have been accorded the status of national projects. Another eight projects are said to be in the planning stage. 

Reason for shift in Policy: 

  • Post Uri, India’s decision to change the status quo and use more waters of the Indus rivers was made with the calculation that it would hurt the interests of Pakistan, which has become used to the excess water and built its infrastructure around it. 

  • More than 95% of Pakistan’s irrigation infrastructure is in the Indus basin — about 15 million hectares of land. It has now become the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system, comprising over 60,000 km of canals. 

  • Three of Pakistan’s biggest dams, including Mangla, which is one of the largest in the world, is built on the Jhelum river. These dams produce a substantial proportion of Pakistan’s electricity. 

Pakistan’s claims & Dispute resolution: 

  • Even before India’s shift in policy, Pakistan had often complained that it was being denied its due share of waters, and that India had violated the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty in the manner it had designed and implemented many of its projects on the Indus rivers. 

  • The result has been an increasing number of objections being raised by Pakistan on the projects that are coming up in India. 

  • The two countries have permanent Indus Water Commissions that meet regularly not just to share information and data, but also to resolve disputes. Until a few years ago, most of these disputes would be resolved through this bilateral mechanism. 

  • The dispute over the Baglihar dam was the first one that Pakistan referred to the World Bank, which had brokered the Indus Waters Treaty. Baglihar, which was adjudicated upon by a neutral expert, did not go Pakistan’s way. 

  • In the case of the Kishanganga project, where the matter was referred to a Court of Arbitration, a higher level of conflict resolution under the Treaty, Pakistan managed to get a partially favourable decision. Some disputes over the Kishanganga have remained unresolved and are currently being addressed.