Indus Water Treaty

Mains Marks Booster     27th July 2023        

Introduction: India has issued a notice to Pakistan seeking a review and modification of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). It cited Pakistan’s “intransigence” in resolving disputes over the Kishanganga and Ratle (on Chenab River) hydropower projects, both in Jammu and Kashmir.

Understanding the Indus Water Treaty

  • Background: The Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank and signed in 1960, divides the Indus river system between India and Pakistan.
  • Water control division: India was given control over the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers, while Pakistan received control over the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers.

Basis of the Treaty: Equitable Water-Sharing

  • Partition and negotiations: The treaty became necessary after the partition of India in 1947 to divide the Indus river system.
  • Sharing formula: The sharing formula allocated 80.52% of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan, demonstrating India's generosity as an upper riparian.
  • Financial support: India provided Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan for building replacement canals from the western rivers.

    Rights Accorded to India

    • Water usage: India has limited irrigation use rights and unrestricted rights for power generation, domestic, industrial, and non-consumptive purposes on the western rivers.
    • Regulations for projects: The treaty lays down specific regulations for the construction of water and hydropower projects.
    • Hydroelectricity generation: India has the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers, subject to design and operation criteria.
    • Pakistan's objections: Pakistan has the right to raise objections to the designs of Indian hydroelectric projects on the western rivers.

    Significance and Survival of the Treaty

    • Symbol of peaceful coexistence: The treaty exemplifies the possibility of peaceful coexistence despite a troubled relationship between India and Pakistan.
    • Resilience during conflicts: The treaty has endured three major wars between India and Pakistan.
    • India's generosity: India's willingness to share waters and refrain from weaponizing them has contributed to the treaty's survival.
    • Economic importance for Pakistan: About 80% of Pakistan's agriculture relies on the waters of the Indus and other riparian rivers.
    • Global reputation: Maintaining the treaty upholds India's image as a reliable global partner.

    Considerations and Need for a Rethink

    • Potential leverage for India: India could escalate a water war with Pakistan in response to state-sponsored terrorism, severely affecting Pakistan's economy.
    • Humanitarian concerns: Initiating a water war could result in floods or droughts that harm ordinary Pakistanis while the political elites continue to live luxuriously.
    • PM Modi's stance: PM Modi's statement, "Blood and waters cannot flow together," suggests a need to balance security concerns with humanitarian considerations.

    Way Forward

    • India's responsible role: India has demonstrated its commitment to abiding by the provisions of the treaty as an upper riparian.
    • Re-evaluation and negotiation: India should consider re-evaluating or renegotiating certain provisions of the treaty to address evolving security challenges and changing dynamics.
    • Balancing interests: A balanced approach should ensure that the treaty continues to benefit ordinary people while addressing India's security concerns.
    • Addressing terrorism: Just as water affects ordinary Pakistanis, terrorism affects Indians, highlighting the need for comprehensive efforts to combat terrorism.


    The Indus Waters Treaty provides an opportunity for both countries to engage in constructive dialogue, ensuring the equitable sharing of water resources while addressing the broader challenges of security, development, and regional cooperation.