COMMENT: IWT 1960 is not delivering —Abdul Basit Khan - Friday, April 01, 2011

Source :\04\01\story_1-4-2011_pg3_5

The ‘fairness’ of the Indus Water Treaty is being questioned now. Experts are questioning whether it can address India’s growing use of shared waters and Pakistan’s increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes

The US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Water in South and Central Asia released a stunning report on February 22, 2011, in which it is stated that India is building 33 projects in occupied Kashmir that could enable her to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at “crucial moments” in the growing season. New Delhi is building two hydropower projects — Chutak and Nimoo Bazgo — contested by Pakistan for being constructed in violation of the Indus Water Basin Treaty (IWT) of 1960. These two developments have prompted Islamabad to order three ‘investigations’ into how India was able to secure international credit incentives from the UN for the construction of two hydropower projects on Indus River tributaries in the disputed region of Kashmir. Water has become a growing source of tension between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is a one-river-basin country and all of its hydroelectric power projects come from the Indus. The construction of dozens of additional dams by India — Dulhasti, Dugar, Gondhala, Reoli/Dugli, Sach Khas, Tandi, Teling Tinget, Sawalkot, Seli, Raoli and Kirthal hydropower projects — has tremendously decreased the flow of the western rivers allocated to Pakistan through the IWT. India has commenced work on two other controversial dams on River Chenab named Uri-1 and Uri-2. This is a flagrant breach of the IWT. “There is a high amount of anxiety, and it is not misplaced,” said a senior American official in Islamabad.

Water issues between India and Pakistan arose because the hydraulic system was disrupted by partition (1947) as irrigated areas remained in west Punjab while the main headworks on the rivers and canals irrigating these lands were handed over to India in the newly divided arrangement. The sources of all the five tributaries of the Indus — Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — remained in India. An understanding on water sharing between the two neigbouring countries formed by partition was clearly necessary. Prolonged negotiations between the two governments, assisted by the World Bank, led to the signing of the IWT in September 1960. According to the IWT, India has exclusive control over the waters of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, whereas Pakistan controls the waters of the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. The IWT barred the upper riparian (India) from storing any water or constructing any storage works on the western rivers that would result in reduced flow of water to the lower riparian (Pakistan).

The IWT has acquired a reputation internationally as a successful instance of conflict-resolution and has maintained stability in the region over water for decades. The treaty has been working well despite the difficult political relations between India and Pakistan. Nonetheless, the ‘fairness’ of the treaty is being questioned now. Experts are questioning whether the IWT can address India’s growing use of shared waters and Pakistan’s increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes. The treaty barred India from interfering “with the water of these rivers except for domestic use and non-consumptive use, limited agriculture use and limited utilisation for generation of hydro-electric power”. India has interpreted the clauses of the IWT in a way that shows that no single dam along the waters controlled by the IWT will affect Pakistan’s access to water. Indian water experts rationalise their water conquest by saying that, as Pakistan has no proper system for water storage, India has a right to produce power and irrigate its lands. Whether the IWT adapts to these changes or not depends on India. In an article ‘War and peace on the Indus’, published in South Asian Idea, John Briscoe, an expert on South Asia’s water issues at Harvard University, puts the onus on India, demanding that India should be more accommodating and considerate as the upper riparian.

India’s 12th five-year plan (2012-2017) envisages 10 power projects on the Chenab, including the Bursar project, with an installed capacity of 1,020 MW of electricity and a dam height of 829.08 feet. Under the five-year plan, 30,000 MW of hydroelectric power is to be generated. Additional 190 sites having a gross potential of 33,382 MW on the Indus basin falling in the area of Jammu and Kashmir have been identified. Nonetheless, Pakistan has raised the construction of the two hydropower projects — Chutak and Nimoo Bazgo projects — at the Permanent Indus Commission. Under clause 37(b) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was mandatory for India to get approval from Pakistan before it started getting carbon credits for two controversial hydropower projects. Under the UNFCCC mechanism, carbon credits cannot be granted for a project having cross-boundary environmental impact unless cleared by the relevant countries. India must get the trans-boundary environment impact reports (TEIR) ratified for all upcoming and ongoing projects including hydroelectric dams. The clauses of the IWT are being interpreted based on India’s own national interest.

The number of dams under construction and their management is a source of significant bilateral tension. Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330 MW dam on the Kishanganga River, a tributary of the Indus. The decrease in flow of water during the sowing season will adversely affect crops. Most hydrologists are of the view that sharp water decline in the flow of the river at Head Marala in Pakistan is due to unauthorised direct water withdrawal by farmers in Jammu with the support of the Indian authorities who had especially subsidised electricity for direct pumping in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh and diversion of the Ravi-Tavi link canal.

In order to resolve these challenges, India must reconsider its decision of suspending the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. Any major upstream alteration in a river system should be negotiated, not imposed as in the case of Indian water overtures on the rivers Chenab, Jhelum and Indus. As the Salal Dam issue of 1978 was resolved through talks, given the will, the Kishanganga, Bursar and two controversial projects at Chutak and Nimoo Bazgo, can be settled amicably. Once the issues related to water are discussed and settled, it can assist in easing tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. A breakdown in the treaty’s utility could have serious ramifications for regional stability. Therefore, Washington must act as a mediator between the two countries in coaxing India to follow the true spirit of the IWT, which is so critical for the stability of South Asia.

The writer is a freelance columnist

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