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Indus Water Treaty – Abrogation or Remodification

Indus Water Treaty – Abrogation or Remodification

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-  India and its neighborhood- relations.

Indus Water Treaty – Abrogation or Remodification

  • September 19 marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan, a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship.
  • However, Of late India is under pressure to rethink the extent to which it can remain committed to the provisions, as its overall political relations with Pakistan becomes intractable.

How was the rights divided:

  • Partitioning the Indus rivers system was inevitable after the Partition of India in 1947.
  • The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.
  • The three ‘western rivers’ (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) went to Pakistan and the three ‘eastern rivers’ (Sutlej, Ravi and Beas) were portioned to India.
  • India conceded 80.52 per cent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
  • It also gave Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers.
  • India conceded its upper riparian position on the western rivers for the complete rights on the eastern rivers.

India and eastern rivers:

  • Water was critical for India’s development plans.
  • It was vital to get the waters of the ‘eastern rivers’ for the proposed Rajasthan canal and the Bhakra Dam without which both Punjab and Rajasthan would be left dry, severely hampering India’s food production. 
  •  Jawaharlal Nehru, while inaugurating the Bhakra Canals in 1963, described it as “a gigantic achievement and a symbol of the nation’s energy and enterprise”.
  • In Pakistan, however, it was an occasion of strong resentment, grieving that India got away with the total flow of 33 million acre-feet on the eastern rivers.
  • Nehru was always conscious that the Bhakra Canals should not be at the cost of reduced water supplies to Pakistan.
  • However, he was also very clear that India’s interest on the eastern rivers should be protected.

Pakistan’s scepticism:

  • The Pakistan leadership considers the sharing of the waters with India an unfinished business. What is disputable today has nothing to do with water sharing.
  • Water sharing is settled under the IWT. However, there are disputes on whether the Indian projects on the western rivers, conform to the technical stipulations.
  • Being a lower riparian state, Pakistan’s scepticism of India allows it to increasingly politicise the issue.
  • Pakistan maintains high troop levels and alertness around the canals on the eastern front, fearing that India will try to take control of the western rivers.
  • Clearly, due to its strategic location and importance, the Indus basin continues to receive considerable international attention.

Clamour for abrogation:

  • There is a clamour in India for abrogating the IWT as a response to Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism and intransigence.
  • Any attempt towards this would require a number of politico-diplomatic and hydrological factors to be determined as also a political consensus.
  • The treaty has remained “uninterrupted”.
  • This is because India respects its signatory and values trans-boundary rivers as an important connector in the region.
  • There have been several instances of terror attacks — Indian Parliament in 2001, Mumbai in 2008, and the incidents in Uri in 2016 and Pulwama in 2019.
  • This could have prompted India, within the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to withdraw from the IWT.
  • However, on each occasion, India chose not to do so.


  • There also a growing debate to modify the existing IWT.
  • With a new set of hydrological realities, advanced engineering methods in dam construction and de-siltation, there is an urgent need to look at it afresh.
  • Article XII of the IWT says that it “may from time to time be modified”.
  • It also adds “by a duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two governments”.

Way Forward:

  • Pakistan will see no merit in any modification having already got a good deal in 1960.
  • India’s best option, therefore, would be to optimise the provisions of the treaty.
  • India has been woefully wanting in not utilising the 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) of “permissible storage capacity” granted by the IWT on the western rivers.
  • Poor water development projects have allowed 2-3 MAF of water to easily flow into Pakistan which needs to be urgently utilised.
  • Further, out of the total estimated capacity of 11406 MW electricity that can be harnessed from the three western rivers in Kashmir, only 3034 MW has been tapped so far.

Source:”Hindustan Times”.


Eventhough the role of India, as a responsible upper riparian abiding by the provisions of the treaty, has been remarkable, the country, of late, is under pressure to rethink the extent to which it can remain committed to the provisions, as its overall political relations with Pakistan becomes intractable. Analyse the various options at India’s hands.