Indus Water Treaty
Is India warming for the “One Cut”
Pak President Gen Zia-Ul-Haq’s declaration ‘to bleed India through a thousand cuts’ was the guideline Pakistan diligently followed. India, as a nation recipient of maximum impact of terror from the neighbour, latest being the Uri Attack, seems planning to inflict ‘one cut’ via the Indus Water Treaty (IWT). The lower riparian state of Pakistan is solely dependent on one –Indus Water Basin, whose key player is India.
The ‘cut’ may not come as impatiently as public tempers following the Uri attack, but by systematic evolution of river projects over the years that India could formulate within the parameters and stipulations of the IWT.
There could soon be a beginning, as Dr Medha Bisht, of South Asian University, informed during her address at the International River Symposium by International Water Management Institute, (IWMI) in Delhi recently,-“As many as 20 mini dams are in the pipeline for river Chenab, one of the three western river waters vested with Pakistan under IWT.” There are also proposals for harnessing water through mini dams on Jhelum.
Taking serious note of the possibilities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed about IWT’s Indian centric options. Following it, it was declared that India will be dramatically reconfiguring the usage of its share of the waters.
An inter-ministerial expert group has already been put on the job to figure out India’s non-consumptive use, apart from plans to commission flood reservoirs, dams and exploit the entitled water share.
Economically and domestically Pakistan is widely dependent on the Indus basin. If indeed India could unilaterally scrap the treaty and divert the waters flow to Pakistan it would mean an immediate tactical retaliation. Alas, by doing so, India may only succeed in large submersion of its own lands.
As Amitabh Sinha in his write up in Indian Express aptly pointed out “Turning off Indus tap, easier said than done”
Indus Waters Treaty and beyond
After a decade of World Bank-brokered negotiations, six rivers of the Indus basin were notified as ‘eastern’ and ‘western’. Sutlej, Beas and Ravi as eastern; Jhelum, Chenab and Indus designated western. Under the IWT signed on 19th September, 1960 in Karachi with signatories- Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Pak President Ayub Khan, the control of the eastern rivers were vested with India and three western ones with Pakistan. Despite Pakistan’s apprehensions, since ‘source rivers’ flowed through India, and the potential to create droughts and famines in Pakistan at times of war,both countries managed their shared river waters amicably, irrespective of wars and chilly relations, to be hailed as global model of water sharing and cooperation.
So much so, “Two anti-aircraft guns stationed and in readiness at all times, at Bhakra Dam, have never had a chance to boom against air-space violation in the restricted area during any of the wars”, articulated Tarlochan Singh Chief Engineer, Bhakra Dam, during a field trip to the high security dam organized by IWMI.
Under IWT India is entitled for non-consumptive right to use 20% of the waters of western rivers. Which spells out – domestic purposes, irrigation and hydropower production, as specified in the Treaty.
Merely by making optimum use of the stipulated usage of 20% under IWT of western rivers, India could utilize its non-consumptive option for domestic use, irrigation, hydro-electricity, that could cause a dent in quantity of water flow to the partner country. Presently India has merely utilized 3% or 4% of its sanctioned entitlement.
It is indeed a testament to India’s diplomatic patience that Pakistan’s repeated attempts to internationalize the IWT by taking the matter to the International Court of Arbitration, Hague; has been met with stoic resilience on the Indian side.
Jammu & Kashmir and IWT
The “generosity” of the Indus Waters Treaty has been a source of grievance for state of Jammu and Kashmir, a power-starved state. In 2003, late Mufti Mohammad Syeed had passed a resolution in the J&K Assembly seeking a review of the treaty, but the resolution fell through.
However, another resolution in late June this year, with PDP-BJP coalition in the saddle, is of significance. The state assembly united on revision of the IWT, citing that the source state has been treated shabbily as a non-entity in the Treaty whereas its water resources meant rich dividends to bolster its ailing economy. It has demanded compensation in lieu of usage of its waters. This makes Jammu & Kashmir stand strongly behind a proposal for a revisit of the IWT.
Pakistan is ill at ease with such a revisit, as it least expects 1960s generosity to continue, due to changed conditions and multiple reasons viz-a-viz climate change, ecological, geographical, economical and most of all political and diplomatic chill due to years of mistrust.
Prof Shakil A Romshoo HoD Earth Sciences, Kashmir University, contends – “Jammu &Kashmir is naturally endowed as water surplus state. Add to that, the state’s vision to encourage horticulture, weaning it from agriculture has paid huge dividends as the government sanctions 6% to7% higher support price. This, as horticulture is less water guzzling, than agricultural crops, has further made the state, water economical.” However, J&K’s demand for larger stake in share of power is considered a genuine demand.
India has yet to avail of its entitlement to build storage for up to 3.6 million acre feet on western rivers. India has built no storage facilities so far, apart from a small attempt in north Kashmir, the government has done precious little to store the permitted water under the treaty.
Out of the crop area of 13,43,477 acres that India is entitled to irrigate using water of western rivers, only 7,92,426 acres was being irrigated. Government needs to scale up the irrigation by another 5 lakh acres. At least 36 major tributaries flow into Jhelum River, which originates in south Kashmir.
India can up-the-ante, but cannot tame river courses at a press of a button or by turning off the tap. It has to systematically and thoughtfully traverse the course, keeping climate change and larger ecological parameters and perspectives in mind. In the long term India can utilize the allotted use under the Treaty itself, without causing itself any blemish of unilaterally abrogating the Treaty and simultaneously can inflict the ‘one cut’ for the recalcitrant neighbour.
Water, after all, is haughty mistress; it follows its own ways and whims
Loathe be one, who can rein its lithe flow!
A journalist based in Punjab, the author can be reached at email@example.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON 30TH SEPTEMBER 2016