With the presence of a Pakistani team to J&K, the Indus Water Treaty comes to light, and the BJP calls for the treaty to be terminated.

NEW DELHI – The Indus Water Treaty of 1960, signed between India and Pakistan for allocation of waters from six rivers flowing through the Himalayan ranges, has come to limelight with a five-member Pakistani delegation currently visiting Jammu & Kashmir for inspection of power projects set up on two of the rivers covered under the pact. This is the first such visit since J&K’s special status was scrapped in 2019.

Pakistan has taken repeated technical objections to India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects, while India has sought modification of the treaty. On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded termination of the treaty during the Pakistani team’s visit, saying it has been beneficial for Pakistan and has had detrimental effects on the development and water security of J&K.

The treaty allocates water from Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, which are called the eastern rivers, for India’s unrestricted use. The western rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – have been allocated to Pakistan for unrestricted use, barring certain non-consumptive, agricultural and domestic use by India. Under the agreement, 70% of the share of water or about 135 Million Acre Feet (MAF) went to Pakistan, leaving the rest 33 MAF or 30% of water for use by India.

A 40-member team, comprising the Pakistani delegation, delegates from India and neutral experts from the World Bank, conducted a three-day tour of the Chenab valley this week, where they inspected two major power projects – the 850 MW Ratle project at Drabshalla and the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul hydroelectric project on Marusudar river. Both these projects are over the tributaries of the Chenab river. The team was given access to these power projects under the treaty.

The delegates also visited the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) headquarters in Kishtwar. The neutral expert from the World Bank on India’s request had organised a meeting under the treaty in Vienna in September 2023, which discussed the matters related to the site visit in J&K. Senior advocate Harish Salve, India’s lead counsel, pleaded India’s case regarding the Kishenganga and Ratle projects, which are set up on the Chenab and the Kishenganga rivers.

The latest visit was arranged in the backdrop of Pakistan’s technical objection to the two hydroelectric projects with the contention that they will cut flows on the river. India, however, maintains that water usage was carried out as per the treaty. India has also objected to Pakistan’s bid to hold parallel proceedings by an illegally constituted Court of Arbitration on the same set of issues pertaining to the Kishenganga and Ratle projects.

The J&K government appointed 25 liaison officers for the neutral experts and the delegates from India and Pakistan. The delegates stayed in J&K till June 29 after a joint inspection of different power projects. According to the official sources, the two countries are working towards resolving outstanding issues through coordination and dialogue.

So far, Pakistan has formally raised objections over 1,000 MW Pakal Dul and 48 MW Lower Kalnai hydropower projects. It has flagged its objections to other projects in J&K and Ladakh, which include 10 hydroelectric power projects of Durbuk Shyok, Nimu Chilling, Kiru, Tamasha, Kalaroos-II, Baltikulan Small, Kargil Hunderman, Phagla, Kulan Ramwari and Mandi. Under the treaty, India has rights over the run-of-the-river water from the three rivers flowing through J&K and complete rights over the water flowing through the three rivers in Punjab.

The treaty gives India the right to generate hydroelectricity through projects set up on the western rivers, subjected to specific design and operation criteria. At the same time, it permits Pakistan to object to any Indian design on projects which do not meet the criteria. Pakistan initially objected to the designs of the Kishenganga and Ratle projects in 2016. It had sought a settlement through a neutral expert, who has special expertise to deliver an impartial judgment.

Pakistan later withdrew the request and sought intervention from a Court of Arbitration. India, on the other hand, wanted a solution through neutral expert proceedings only. In October 2022, the World Bank appointed Michael Lino as the neutral expert and Sean Murphy as the chair of the Court of Arbitration. Following the appointment, there were two meetings, along with India’s refusal to join the Court of Arbitration. On January 25, 2023, India issued a notice to Pakistan to change the treaty due to its lack of cooperation.

Senior BJP leader Devender Singh Rana said in Jammu that he expected the Central Government to intensify initiatives to terminate the treaty “in the larger interests of the country in general” and J&K in particular. He reiterated the BJP’s stand on revisiting the treaty signed in 1960 during the Congress rule. “It has been beneficial for Pakistan and has had detrimental effects on the development and water security of J&K,” Rana said.

The BJP leader said that revisiting the treaty was imperative to address the longstanding issues of J&K. “An earnest resolution holds the key for faster development of this part of the country, especially in the power sector,” Rana added.

India and Pakistan had signed the Indus Water Treaty after nine years of negotiations, with the World Bank being a signatory of the pact which sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two sides on the use of waters of the cross-border rivers.

In the recent years, the treaty has been brought up a couple of times during tension between India and Pakistan. In the aftermath of the attack on J&K’s Uri army camp in 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: “Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously,” soon after which, the Permanent Indus Commission talks were suspended for that year by the Indian side, which also at one point threatened to walk out of the treaty.

Again in 2019, when the suicide attack was carried out in Pulwama, killing 40 CRPF personnel, India had for the first time threatened to cut off water supply to Pakistan from the Indus River System. Then Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari had said that India would stop its share of water flowing to the neighbour, in addition to diverting the water from the eastern rivers, to supply it to J&K and Punjab.

Gadkari had later clarified that restricting Pakistan’s supply would be in violation of the treaty, and required consideration of the Centre’s top brass. Significantly, the Indus Water Treaty does not have a unilateral exit provision, and is supposed to remain in force unless both the countries ratify another mutually agreed pact.

Because of a wide trust deficit between the two countries, there is a remote chance of Pakistan accepting India’s request to renegotiate to modify some of the provisions in the treaty. Evidently, there is a need to involve local stakeholders in any negotiation process between India and Pakistan on shared water issues. Also, a joint group comprising technocrats, climate experts, water management professionals, and scientists from both countries can be set up to look at the core of the problem.

For making the treaty work, there is also a need to explore cooperation arrangements mentioned in Article VII of the pact. The two countries have to recognise their common interest in the optimum development of the Indus Rivers System. Since the treaty was signed more than 60 years ago, a few amendments may be needed due to changes in the situation in the Indus River Basin region. As the treaty’s provisions cannot be modified unilaterally, any kind of changes will require trust between the two riparian countries.

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