21 October 2020 03:17 PM

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Lt General HARWANT SINGH | 30 SEPTEMBER, 2020

Time to Recast the Indus Water Treaty

Both India and Pakistan stand to gain


September 19 was the date in 1960, when the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan was signed at Karachi by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with the World Bank as the third party grantor.

It was an extremely poorly negotiated Treaty, where India gave Pakistan 80.52 per cent of the waters of six rivers ( Indus and five rivers of Punjab) keeping just over nineteen percent for itself. In addition Pakistan got waters of the four Indian Nallahs that join river Ravi. This was so even though India is the upper Riparian state to all the six rivers and thus had first right over the waters.

In this Treaty, India got the waters of three Eastern rivers ( Ravi, Beas and Sutlej ) while Pakistan, that of three Western rivers,( Indus Jhelum and Chenab.) In actual fact given the status of India as the upper riparian country, the division should have been 65 percent of waters to Pakistan and 35 percent to India.

How did the Indian PM sign off, for perpetuity, the country's rightful claim on these waters. It also displayed India’s lack of skill at the negotiating table, which was visible progressively.

The world’s best canal system in West Punjab went to Pakistan. Since some of the canals in Pakistan originated in India, water in these was allowed to continue to flow for the next ten years, by which time Pakistan was expected to create alternate facilities to feed waters to these canals from rivers allotted to it.

Thus from 1960 to 1970 India actually had, for its own use, only around 15% water instead of the 19.42 allotted to it, vide Indus Water Treaty. Besides this, India provided funds to Pakistan to create these alternate facilities. Apparently all this was a win-win situation for Pakistan. To add to all this and to the utter disadvantage of India, Pakistan was able to insert fine print details in the Indus Water Treaty, which it figured would work to its favour and against the interest of India.

Though the Treaty allocates waters of three Western rivers to irrigate 1.34 million acres of Indian land (in Jammu & Kashmir ) but action to implement this came under objection by Pakistan, when waters to only 0.792 million acres were provided. This has resulted in stalling of connected projects. Thus vast tracts of virgin lands in various valleys in Ladakh region could not be irrigated.

The clause in the Treaty, on the types of dams on the three Western rivers (in J&K) could only be of the ‘Run of the River,’ configuration, which Pakistan figured would work in its favour, though the same has come to play a negative role for Pakistan.

This restriction on the type of dams was perhaps due to the fear of India flooding Pakistan, at some point in the event of a conflict. Further, even in the construction of various run of the river dams, such as Sallal, Uri, Dul Hasti, Baglihar, Neelum river, etc, Pakistan along with the World Bank has been creating impediments resulting in inordinate delays in the completion of these.

The Salal dam on Chenab, near Ryasi, which was originally built as a storage dam, had to be converted to run off the river configuration, due to Pakistanand the World Bank’s insistence.

Presently with the run of the river dams, the estimated potential is 18653 MW and with storage dams the potential could go up by another 50 to 60 per cent. India has not been able to harness the existing capacity for generation of electricity. .

These runs of the river dams have worked to the great disadvantage of both countries, more so in the case of Pakistan. For India, hydel power projects based on run of the river dams cannot fully exploit the flow of water, because during the rainy season the flow of water increased, but dries up during the summers as a result of which fewer turbines operate during these months. So in economic terms such dams are not cost effective. Over and above this, there is the problem of silting in the dams.

For Pakistan the disadvantages accruing from these dams is far greater. This is so because that country just cannot store excess water from these rivers during the rainy season and consequently it just flows into the sea. Whereas during the dry season there is a shortage of water, and Pakistan is highly water stressed.

On its part, India ( Punjab) has tried to meet the shortage of water from the three Eastern rivers for irrigation, by recklessly sanctioning tube wells, before every election and providing free electricity to these. This favoured cultivation of paddy, which has resulted in depleting ground water to dangerously low levels. Efforts to diversify the crops have not fructified and funds allotted for the same ( Rs 65 crores ) disappeared into thin air!

India has also failed to fully utilize the waters of Ravi, due to unacceptable delay in the construction of Shahpur Kandi barrage, with the result that much of the waters of this river flow to Pakistan during the monsoons. Moreover the sluice gates on the three Eastern rivers are overdue for repair with water leakages that flow into Pakistan.

At hundreds of locations in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, where the water current in various rivers/tributaries is very fast, it is possible to make channels and lower turbines into these waters ( similar to Persian Wheels, with suitably designed blades and provision for automatic rise and drop in the level of turbines depending on the rise and fall of water level in the stream) to generate electricity. With this electricity on a small scale can be produced at these places to meet the requirement at almost all locations.

Also if the clause pertaining to the type of hydel project dams is changed from run of the river to storage dams it will be of great advantage to Pakistan in four ways. One, wasterful flow of water into the sea during the rainy season will be drastically reduced. Two, the flow of water would be evenly regulated throughout the year for irrigation. Three, abundant electricity generated from hydel projects in J&K ( based on storage dam configuration) can be made available to Pakistan at some concessional rates. And four, nutrients carried by such waters will regenerate soil in Pakistan.

Even with storage dams, a certain amount of water during the rainy season will flow into the sea, because Pakistan will not be able to use all of the waters of three Western rivers. Therefore, it should accept some of the waters of Chenab to be diverted into Beas, thus bringing allocations between Pakistan and India to 70 and 30 percent respectively. Some limited quantity of water from Ravi can be made available to Pakistan to irrigate fields in Kartarpur Sahib and Lahore region. Similarly, height of the dam on Neelum river, where its waters have been diverted to Wular lake, can be suitably adjusted so that downstream fields, earlier watered by this river, continue to receive the required quantity of water.

Therefore, recasting Indus Water Treaty for better utilisation of waters of these six rivers is in the best interest of both Pakistan and India.

Lt General HARWANT SINGH is retired from the Indian Army.

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