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The Indus Water Treaty

Subrahmanyam Sridhar

Executive Summary

Recent stresses and strains in the observance of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) [1] have had many analysts including this author believe that water sharing will take a politically charged dynamic and may even replace Kashmir as the primary source of conflict between India and Pakistan. Therefore it is important to have comprehensive understanding of the overall issues of the Indus system of rivers and the IWT as this article attempts to provide. It is formatted introduce the Indus river system, a brief overview of the principles of water sharing, the historical background leading up to the water crisis between India and Pakistan and the mediation by the World Bank, various provisions of the IWT, current disputes in water projects on the Indus River System bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and a look into the state of affairs of the Indus River System within Pakistan today.

The Indus River System
The Indus Tributaries
The Indus Water Treaty 
Current Issues on Indus Water Sharing

References and Footnotes


The 3rd World Water Forum  held at Kyoto , Japan in March 2003 sent simultaneous messages of hope and distress regarding the availability of water to meet surging worldwide demand in the coming decades. Its significance is especially serious in the Indian subcontinent, a region that is home to one-fourth of humanity and to three of the mightiest rivers of the world: the Indus , Ganges and Brahmaputra . Although these rivers have been subject to significant water sharing treaties among the various riparian states in the past, currently four major treaties govern them. These include the Indus Water Treaty (1960) between India and Pakistan , Sankosh Multipurpose Project treaty (1993) between India and Bhutan , the Ganges Water Sharing Agreement (1996) between India and Bangladesh , and the Mahakali Treaty (1996) between India and Nepal .

Recent stresses and strains in the observance of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) [1] have had many analysts including this author believe that water sharing will take a politically charged dynamic and may even replace Kashmir as the primary source of conflict between India and Pakistan. Therefore it is important to have comprehensive understanding of the overall issues of the Indus system of rivers and the IWT as this article attempts to provide. It is formatted introduce the Indus river system, a brief overview of the principles of water sharing, the historical background leading up to the water crisis between India and Pakistan and the mediation by the World Bank, various provisions of the IWT, current disputes in water projects on the Indus River System bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and a look into the state of affairs of the Indus River System within Pakistan today.

The Indus River System

The northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent is dominated by the Indus River and its system of upper tributaries (collectively referred to as Indus River System in this article.) Originating 17,000 feet (518 m) above sea level in a spring near Lake Manasarovar at Mt. Kailash [i], the Indus river along with the Brahmaputra [ii], Sutlej , and Karnali rivers are fed by massive Tibetan glacial waters to become a mighty river with further feeds from other glacial catchment areas in Karakoram and Zanskar ranges. The Indus then traverses a distance of 1800 miles (2900 km) through Tibet, India, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), and Pakistan before draining into the Arabian Sea south of Karachi. On its way, it is further enriched by the waters of several tributaries, the most important and discussed in this article are Beas , Sutlej , Ravi , Chenab and Jhelum rivers. The western tributaries of the Indus that include the Swat, Kurram, Gomal, Kohat, Zoab and Kabul are not discussed herein. The river has been variously known as the Sengge[2] or Lion River by the Tibetans[iii], Abbasseen or Father of Rivers by the Pathans of present NWFP Pakistan, and Mitho Dariyo or Sweet River by the denizens of the arid Sindh.

Figure 1: Indus river and its tributaries with in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Courtesy of Panos Institute South Asia

Figure 2: Major tributaries and dams of the Indus river Courtesy of Indian Express

The Indus Tributaries

Sutlej : The longest of the five tributaries, the Sutlej originates near Mt. Kailash along with the Indus and runs a course of 964 miles (1550 km) through the Panjal and Siwalik mountain ranges and enters Pakistan through the plains of Indian Punjab. The Husseiniwala Headworks at Ferozepore is located downstream at the merger between of Beas and Sutlej , the closure of which on May 1, 1948 triggered the water crisis that prompted the IWT. These headworks supplied water to the then Princely State of Bikaner through a left-bank canal called Bikaner Canal and the state of Bahawalpur from the right-bank canal called Depalpur Canal . The huge 740 feet (225 m) high Bhakra Dam, which Nehru called “the new temple of resurgent India ,” [11] is also situated on this river. In addition another important headwork located on this Sutlej is Harike that feeds the Sirhind and Rajasthan canals. Within Pakistan , these eastern tributaries of the Indus known as Panjand combine at Mithan Kot.

Figure 3: Bhakra Dam Courtesy of Ministry of Irrigation, Govt. of Rajashtan  

Chenab : This 675 mile (1086 km) long river originates in the Kulu and Kangra districts of Himachal Pradesh and is fed by the tributaries Chandra and Bagha as it enters J&K near Kishtwar. After cutting across the Pir Panjal range, it enters the Sialkot district in Pakistan that built the Marala barrage across the river in 1968 with a maximum discharge of 1.1 million cusecs.

Jhelum & Kishenganga (Neelum): The Kishenganga river rises in the mountain complex west of Dras and south of Deosai plateau and is fed by a number of tiny tributaries and merges with Jhelum near Muzaffarabad in PoK. The Jhelum [iv] itself originates in the foothills of Pir Panjal near Verinag and flows through the four major cities of Anantnag, Srinagar , Sopore and Baramulla. Some important tributaries of the Jhelum are Lidar, Sind and Vishav.

Ravi : This 475 mile (764 km) long river rises in Himachal  Pradesh and runs a course of 102 miles (164 km) before joining Chenab in Pakistan after flowing past Lahore . The Thien Dam (Ranjit Sagar Dam) is located on this river at the tri-section of Punjab , Himachal Pradesh and J&K States and feeds the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC) which irrigates Northwestern Punjab .

Beas : This 290 mile (467 km) long river originates near Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh and flows through Kulu Valley and the Siwalik Range . The Pandoh Dam is situated on this and diverts water to Sutlej through the Beas-Sutlej link.

The original infrastructure built by the British to harness and efficiently distribute the waters of these tributaries with a series of canals, barrages, and headworks has been augmented with construction of dams since independence by both India and Pakistan .

The Indus Water Treaty

The India Independence Act enacted in 1947 by British Parliament and the subsequent British withdrawal from India left the subcontinent partitioned between two independent states marred by demarcation problems along their international boundaries, the peculiar circumstances leading to the division, and the accession of a number of princely states especially that of Jammu & Kashmir straddling India and Pakistan as well as the complex riverine systems of Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. Of these three rivers, the Indus presented a complicated set of issues stemming from thousands of kilometres of man-made irrigation canals and headworks that regulated the flow of its waters.  While all the rivers, except Indus and Sutlej , originated within Kashmir , the headworks located mostly in the Eastern Punjab were awarded to India .  Aside from the Punjab Boundary Commission suggestion that the canal-headworks system be treated as a joint venture, a proposition rejected by both countries, it had not deliberated water sharing of Indus River Basin due to a hasty partition that was completed  in a mere 73 days. Water sharing issues of Indus River System would later take over a decade to resolve.  Further complicating this issue, Pakistan covertly and later overtly sought to grab Jammu & Kashmir for various reasons including the desire to control the waters of these rivers that succeeded in instilling only distrust among Indian minds. 

After the Partition, both the nations agreed to a “Standstill Agreement” on Dec. 30, 1947 freezing the existing water turn systems at the two headworks of Madhopur (on the Ravi ) and Ferozepur (on the Sutlej ) until March, 31, 1948 . Any dispute that could not be resolved by the Punjab Partition Committee was to be decided by the Arbitral Tribunal (AT) which had been setup under Section Nine of the Indian Independence Act by the Governor General to sort out difficulties arising over the division of assets. However, on the expiry of the arrangement and after not receiving an encouraging response to a reminder for talks issued by the East Punjab Government on 29th March 1948, and in the absence of a new agreement, the then Indian Punjab Government promptly stopped the water supply through Madhopur on April, 1, 1948. By a coincidence, the Arbitral Tribunal’s term also expired on the same day. In the meanwhile, the AT had accepted India ’s claims regarding seigniorage charges for the waters and ordered payment of the same by Pakistan .  At the invitation of East Punjab , the Engineers of the two divided-Punjab States met in Simla on Apr. 15, 1948 and signed two Standstill Agreements [5] regarding the Depalpur Canal and Central Bari Doab Canal to be in effect until Oct. 15, 1948 . The West Punjab Government agreed to pay:  (1) seigniorage charges, (2) proportionate maintenance costs, and (3) interest on a proportionate amount of capital. In its defence, the GoI cited such charges levied by the Punjab on the Bikaner state under the British.

However, the West Punjab Govt. refused to ratify the Agreement and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, then Liaqat Ali Khan, called for a meeting. The Finance Minister of Pakistan , Ghulam Mohammed, along with the Pakistani Punjab ministers, Shaukat Hayat Khan and Mumtaz Daulatana visited Delhi to work out an agreement [4] in the Inter-Dominion Conference held on May, 3-4, 1948. India agreed to resume release of water from the headworks, but made it clear that Pakistan could not lay claim to these waters as a matter of right and would levy seigniorage charges specified by the Prime Minister of India to be deposited in Reserve Bank of India , establishing Indian sovereignty over these rivers.  The Indian side also made assurances that the waters would be diminished slowly giving enough time for West Punjab to develop alternate sources. The West Punjab Government, for its part, also recognized “the natural anxiety of the East Punjab Government to discharge the obligations to develop areas where water is scarce and which were underdeveloped in relation to parts of West Punjab .” Soon the Pakistani Government falsely accused that they were coerced into signing this Agreement and made futile appeals to the Governor General Lord Mountbatten.  However, due to the hostilities between India and Pakistan on account of Kashmir and in the general environment of distrust and animosity, no further talks took place. Pakistan ’s suggestion in June 1949 to take the matter to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and widen the conflict across all rivers, was rejected by India . On November 1, 1949 , Pakistan unilaterally invalidated the Delhi Agreement and by July, 1950 stopped seigniorage payments into RBI. However, India continued to abide by the Agreement and supplied waters.

In 1951, David Lilienthal, former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and a former Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, USA visited the two countries ostensibly to write a series of articles for the Colliers magazine (since defunct). Having had access to both the Governments at the highest level, Lilientahl wrote in one of his articles, “I proposed that India and Pakistan work out a program jointly to develop and jointly to operate the Indus Basin river system, upon which both nations were dependent for irrigation water. With new dams and irrigation canals, the Indus and its tributaries could be made to yield the additional water each country needed for increased food production. In the article I had suggested that the World Bank might use its good offices to bring the parties to agreement, and help in the financing of an Indus Development program.” Inspired by this idea, Eugene R. Black, then President of the World Bank visited the two countries and proposed a Working Party of Indian, Pakistani and World Bank engineers to tackle the “functional”, rather than the “political” aspects of water sharing. The two countries accepted this mediation [5] (which also had the backing of President Truman who wanted to remove the “kind of unfriendliness” that existed then between the US and India ) offer in March 1952 and sent their technical teams to Washington for further discussions. Subsequent meetings took place in Karachi in Nov., 1952 and New Delhi in Jan. 1953. The World Bank suggested that each side submit its own plans, which they did on Oct. 6, 1953 . The two plans, while concurring on the available supply of water, differed widely on allocations. [6] The table below, shows the initial, negotiated and final positions of both the countries.

Table 1: Indus River System Estimates and Allocations




Initial Estimate

119 MAF

118 MAF[v]

Initial Indian

29 MAF

90 MAF

Initial Pakistani

15.5 MAF

102.5 MAF

Revised Indian

All of the Eastern rivers + 7% of Western rivers

None of the Eastern rivers plus 93% of the Western rivers

Revised Pakistani

30% of Eastern rivers  and none of the Western rivers

70% of the Eastern rivers + all of the Western rivers

World Bank

Entire flow of the Eastern Rivers

Entire flow of the Western Rivers

However, despite all efforts, the wide gaps in the stands of the two countries could not be bridged, mainly due to the intransigence of the Pakistani side as the revised and final allocations show clearly above. The World Bank felt that an ideal approach to joint development of an integrated plan for Indus Basin as proposed by David Lilienthal was now impossible. In order to resolve the dispute, it finally stepped in with its own “settlement” proposals on Feb. 5, 1954 offering the three Eastern rivers to India and the three Western rivers to Pakistan . India accepted the proposal in toto on Mar. 25, 1954 while Pakistan gave only a “qualified acceptance” on July 28, 1954 . The settlement offered by the World Bank was closer to the Indian position as it repudiated the claims of Pakistan based on “historic usage”. An angered Pakistan threatened to withdraw from further negotiations. The World Bank proposal was then transformed from a “settlement” to a “basis for further negotiations” and the talks eventually continued for the next six years. [7, 8] In the meanwhile, the two countries signed an Interim Agreement on June 21, 1955 . As no conclusive agreement could be reached, the World Bank announced on Apr. 30, 1956 that the negotiation deadline has been indefinitely extended. [9] As is its wont, Pakistan , through its then Prime Minister H.S.Suhrawardy, issued a direct threat of war with India over waters, escalating tensions.  

Under the World Bank plan, Pakistan was asked to construct barrages and canals to divert the Western river waters to compensate the loss of Eastern rivers on the Pakistani side. During the period needed to do this, called the Transition Period, India was required to maintain the “historic withdrawals” to Pakistan  The World Bank then suggested a “financial liability” for India as replacement costs by Pakistan for the loss of  the three Eastern rivers. In the 1958 meeting, the replacement works and the financial liability to India were considered. India rejected Pakistan ’s proposal, known as the “London Plan”, for two large dams on the Jhelum and the Indus and three smaller ones on Ravi and Sutlej and several canals, all in all totaling USD 1.2 Billion. India ’s alternate proposal, known as the “Marhu Tunnel Proposal”, was unacceptable to Pakistan as leaving too much leverage on water flows in Indian hands. In May, 1959, the Bank’s President visited both countries and suggested a way out which involved India paying a fixed amount of £ 62.060 Million to be paid in ten years in equal installments and the Bank assisting Pakistan with help from donor countries. The international consortium of donors pledged USD 900 Million for Pakistan and the drafting of the IWT began in Aug., 1959.

The treaty was signed in Karachi by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Field Marshal Ayub Khan H.P., H.J. and Mr. W.A.B. Illif, President of the World Bank in a five-day summit meet starting Sep. 19, 1960 . However, it was deemed effective from Apr. 1, 1960 . The two governments ratified the same in January 1961 by exchanging documents in Delhi . Simultaneously an Indus Basin Development Fund was established with contributions from Australia , Canada , Germany , New Zealand , the UK and the US along with India ’s share of the cost. The Eisenhower Administration contributed roughly half the cost of the Fund, while the World Bank provided US$ 250 Million and the other donor countries together provided a similar amount. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) of Pakistan was entrusted with the task of completing these tasks. The fund was subsequently extinguished after the completion of the projects as per Article XI of the IWT. The May 4, 1948 accord stood annulled after the signing of IWT.  The Indus Basin Project involved construction of two large dams, five barrages, one siphon and seven link canals as detailed below in Tables 2, 3,& 4,  to transfer 14 MAF of water from the Western rivers. [10] There are three systems of link canals. Two of the systems, the Rasul-Qadirabad-Balloki-Suleimanki System (R.Q.B.S.) and the Trimmu-Sidhnai-Mailsi-Bahawal System (T.S.M.B) connect the Jhelum River through to the Sutlej and the third system Chashma-Jhelum System (C.J) connects the Indus with the Jhelum .

Table 2: Engineering Construction Work in Pakistan as part of IWT - Canals

Link Canals Constructed in Pakistan under the IWT

From -To Rivers

Link Canal Name


1. Jhelum Chenab


30 miles long; provides 19,000 cusecs Jhelum water to Chenab

2. Chenab Ravi


104 miles long; provides 18,600 cusecs water to Ravi

3. Ravi Sutlej

Balloki-Suleimanki II

39 miles long; provides 6,500 cusecs water to Sutlej

4. Indus Jhelum


63 miles long; provides 21,700 cusecs water to Jhelum

5. Indus Ravi


44 miles long; provides 11,000 cusecs water to Ravi

6. Ravi Sutlej


60 miles long; provides 10,000 cusecs water to Sutlej

7. Indus – Panjnad


38 miles long; provides 100,000 cusecs water to Sutlej

Table 3: Engineering Construction Work in Pakistan as part of IWT - Reservoirs

Reservoirs Constructed in Pakistan under IWT


On Jhelum at Mangla, Mirpur Distt. in PoK; completed in 1968


On Indus ; completed in 1977; Gross storage 11.62 MAF; Live storage 9.7 MAF; Generates 3478 MW power

Table 4 :Engineering Construction Work in Pakistan as part of IWT - Barrages & Syphons

Barrages Constructed in Pakistan under IWT


On Chenab ; completed in 1968; Max. discharge 1.1 Million cusecs


On Chenab ; completed in 1967; Max. discharge 900,000 cusecs


On Ravi ; completed in 1965; Max. discharge 167,000 cusecs


On Jhelum ; completed in 1967; Max. discharge 876,000 cusecs


On Indus ; completed in 1971; also has a reservoir of 0.75 MAF; Max. discharge 1,176,000 cusecs


On Sutlej ; a gated siphon; Max. discharge 429,000 cusecs

Table 5 :Other Engineering Constructions on the Indus River System

Other Important Engineering Structures

Jinnah Barrage

Constructed 1946; Max. discharge 950,000 cusecs

Taunsa Barrage

Constructed 1959; Max. discharge 750,000 cusecs

Guddu Barrage

Constructed 1962; Max. discharge 1,200,000 cusecs

Sukkur Barrage

Constructed 1932; Max. discharge 1,500,000 cusecs

Kotri Barrage

Constructed 1955; Max. discharge 750,000 cusecs

Ghazi Barotha Barrage

Constructed 2004; Max. discharge 500,000 cusecs; Power generation 1450 MW

Figure 4 Indus Basin   Courtesy: Pakistan Water Gateway Portal

Figure 5 Nehru at Karachi to sign IWT  Courtesy: Frontline

The IWT consists of a Preamble, twelve articles delineating the rights and obligations of both countries, including mechanisms to deal with disputes, and various Annexure. These are as follows:

Table 6 : Articles & Annexure of IWT

Article I


Article II

Provisions Regarding Eastern Rivers

Article III

Provisions Regarding Western Rivers

Article IV

Provisions Regarding Eastern Rivers and Western Rivers

Article V

Financial Provisions

Article VI

Exchange of Data

Article VII

Future Cooperation

Article VIII

Permanent Indus Commission

Article IX

Settlement of Differences and Disputes

Article X

Emergency Provisions

Article XI

General Provisions

Article XII

Final Provisions

Annexure A

Exchange of Notes between Government of India and Government of Pakistan

Annexure B

Agricultural Use by Pakistan from Certain Tributaries of the Ravi

Annexure C

Agricultural Use by India from the Western Rivers

Annexure D

Generation of Hydroelectric Power by India on the Western Rivers

Annexure E

Storage of Waters by India on the Western Rivers

Annexure F

Neutral Expert

Annexure G

Court of Arbitration

Annexure H

Transitional Arrangements

Of the above, Annexure H is no longer valid as the Transition Period, during which Pakistan was required to make alternate arrangements for the loss of waters of the Eastern rivers, has long since expired.

Figure 6: Stamp issued by Pakistan to commemorate Mangla Dam  Courtesy: World Bank

The treaty allocated the three Eastern rivers (Ravi-Beas, Sutlej ) to India and the three Western rivers Indus , Jhelum and Chenab largely to Pakistan . The Treaty permits India to draw water from the Western rivers for irrigation of 642,000 Acres that existed on the date of the treaty and in addition an entitlement to irrigate an Irrigated Cropped Area (ICA)[vi] of 701,000 acres. The break-up (in Acres) on the various Western rivers is as follows:

Table 7: India 's Irrigation Entitlement on Western Rivers

The Indus








As for storage, the following are the allocations to India :  

Table 8 : India 's Entitlement for "other" Storages

River Name

General Storage (MAF)

Power Storage (MAF)

Flood Storage (MAF)





Jhelum (Excluding Jhelum Main )




Jhelum Main



As in Paragraph 9, Annexure E

Chenab (Excluding Chenab Main )




Chenab Main




There are some caveats to the above storage allocations as follows:

·                     General storage means any purpose including generation of electricity

·                     Power storage water may also be used for non-consumptive or domestic use except flood control or protection

·                     The power storage capacity on Chenab may be increased by decreasing corresponding amounts in Jhelum , and/or Chenab Main.

The IWT also enunciated a mechanism to exchange regularly flow-data of rivers, canals and streams. A Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) was constituted, headed by two Commissioners, one from each country. The PIC is expected to meet at least once a year alternately in India and Pakistan and submit an annual report to their respective Governments before June, 30th every year. So far, the Commission has met 92 times. The IWT also sets out the procedures for settlement of differences and disputes both bilaterally and through International arbitration. Given below is an abridged version of the dispute settlement process that may be of interest in the present context:

A.                 Any question that might be a breach of IWT shall be first examined by the PIC.

B.                  A difference is deemed to have arisen if the PIC could not reach an agreement.

C.                 The difference shall be dealt with by a neutral expert who may opine if it is a dispute or not. If not, he shall resolve it. Such a neutral expert shall be a highly qualified engineer and appointed by the two Governments in consultation, or failing which, by the Bank. Such a neutral expert can deal with any of the questions mentioned in Part-I of Annexure-F. The expert’s decision is final and binding.

D.                 In case of a dispute, the Commissioners report to their respective Governments which shall then strive to resolve the dispute.

E.                  A Court of Arbitration shall be setup to resolve the dispute, if no decision is reached by the above process.

F.                  Such a Court will consist of seven members, two from each party and three including a Chairman from a panel to be chosen by the two Governments. If no consensus on names can be arrived at, the IWT has given a list of persons from whom to choose such as the Secretary General of the U.N. or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) for the Chairmanship and the President of M.I.T., Cambridge, the Rector of Imperial College, London, the Chief Justice of the USA, or the Lord Chief Justice of England for panel membership.

Many Pakistanis feel that Pakistan surrendered to India the waters of the three Eastern rivers in 1960. Their argument is along the following lines. On the basis of over fifty years' record the mean flow in Indus River System (IRS) totalled 175 MAF on the eve of Partition of Punjab in 1947. This comprised of 93 MAF including 27 of Kabul for Indus, 23 for Jhelum, 26 for Chenab, 6 for Ravi, 13 for Beas and 14 for Sutlej annually. Out of this 175 MAF, 167 flowed into Pakistan at the time the boundaries of partitioned Punjab were fixed according to the Radcliffe Award . This means that the Indian East Punjab drew only 8 MAF of a total of 33 MAF of water that annually flowed in three eastern rivers Ravi , Beas and Sutlej . Under the Internationally agreed rights of lower riparian states and also Indian Independence Act 1947, the balance 25 MAF waters of three eastern rivers were to be shared between India and Pakistan . [12] The Pakistanis feel that those who negotiated the IWT on their behalf did not sufficiently press for the sharing of this quantum of water.

However, there are several fallacies in these arguments. First, leaving the claim on the quantum of waters aside, the arrangement entered into at Partition time was interim in nature until a final agreement could be reached and the provisions of such an interim arrangement were in no way binding on the parties concerned. Secondly, the Indus Agreement was reached eventually in 1960 during that time the utilization of the waters of these rivers had grown enormously in the states of East Punjab , Rajasthan, and Jammu & Kashmir. To claim the waters on the basis of the flow thirteen years before, when agriculture and economy had been dictated by different circumstances of a united India is patently unfair. In fact, the IWT itself treats water flows and usage based on the situation existing as on Apr. 1, 1960 , the effective date of the Treaty. Thirdly, as a lower riparian state, all the unused river waters would naturally flow to Pakistan . This, by itself, cannot bestow any rights on that country and again, a quantum of 80 MAF of water was reaching the Arabian Sea unutilized out of the total flow of the Indus River systems. [13, 14] All these are summarized by the following statement of N.D.Gulhati, the principal negotiator from the Indian side to the IWT, “After ten years of hard and devoted work, we had secured almost a world-wide recognition of our claim to use in India all the waters of the Eastern Rivers, including the 12 MAF which was actually being let down for use in Pakistan as at the time of partition... In India , we had already allocated all these waters, including the 12 MAF referred to above, between Punjab (including the present Haryana), Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir . The scope of the Bhakra-Nangal project had been considerably increased, the Madhopur-Beas Link and the Sirhind Feeder had been completed and opened for operation, several new channels had been built on the Upper Bari Doab Canal and the Rajasthan Canal was under construction." [15]  

Figure 7:Indian Canals on the Indus River Tributaries Courtesy: Bhakra Beas Management Board

Current Issues on Indus Water Sharing

Issues External to

There are a host of factors external to Pakistan that could also affect the Indus River System. One is the climatic changes leading to reduced flows on the Indus per se. Another exogenous factor is the growing demand within India, especially the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) where people feel that the IWT has wrongfully deprived them of water resulting retarding the growth of agriculture, power generation, and irrigation from rivers that originate and flow from their very state. There was also a widespread demand within India for abrogation of the IWT after the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 by terrorists supported directly by the Pakistani state apparatus.

The Tulbul Navigation Lock/Wullar Barrage Issue

The 74 Sq. Km. Wullar Lake (original size 202 Sq. Kms.) is the largest freshwater lake in India and is situated on the Jhelum and supplies 40% of J&K’s fish catch. The stretch of 22 Km between Sopore and Baramulla becomes non-navigable during the lean winter season with a water depth of only 2.5 ft. It is only in spring that rainfall causes the snow to melt at higher elevations on the surrounding mountains and causes floods. [16]  In order to improve navigation, India started constructing in 1985, a barrage 439 feet long and with a lock, at the mouth of the lake to raise the flow of water in winter to 4000 cusecs with a depth of 4 ft with an added storage of 0.3 MAF. Pakistan objected to this project and construction was halted in 1987. Pakistan’s objection [17,18] stems from two issues, one India needs to get concurrence of the design from Pakistan and  two, it cannot store waters as per IWT on the Jhelum Main anything in excess of 0.01 MAF as “incidental storage work” (Paragraph 8(h) in Annexure E of IWT). Pakistan ’s real objections may be due to its fear that such a barrage may damage its own Triple-Canal project linking   Jhelum and Chenab with the Upper Bari Doab Canal . Pakistan also says that such a barrage would be a security risk enabling the Indian Army to make the crossing of the river either easy or difficult through controlled release of water. India ’s argument [19] is that such a barrage would not reduce the quantum of water flow and it would also be beneficial to Pakistan by regulating water flow to Mangla Dam by controlling floods and also improve the Pakistani Triple-canal irrigation system. The water flow would indeed double during the lean winter period from the current 2000 cusecs.  Also, the project does not envisage building any new storage capacity as the Wullar lake already existed and the water is only for non-consumptive use (this term includes such usage as navigation, floating of timber, flood protection or control, and fishing with no diminution in volume of water returned to the river/tributaries after use) which is allowed by the IWT. The Wullar barrage is not a storage project but a control project permissible under the treaty.  The two countries had indeed reached an agreement in October, 1991 but then Pakistan suddenly introduced an irrelevant element in February, 1992 by linking the termination of Kishenganga Hydroelectric project with further movements in the Tulbul Navigation Lock project and India ’s refusal stalled further work. The 1991 draft agreement stipulated that India would build a 40-feet wide lock but leave ungated 6.2 Metres of the lake at a crest level of 1574.9 Metres and would also forego 0.30MAF storage while Pakistan would allow the lake to fill to its full capacity at 1578 metres. When the agreement was reached in 1991, the only contention that remained was the timing of the filling up of the lake. The crucial period was between June 21 and August 20 every year. Between October, 1987, and August, 1992, experts from the two countries met eight times to settle the issue. The matter was taken up during the Foreign Secretary-level talks between 1990 and 1994 also. The ninth round was held in July, 2004.  

The Salal Hydroelectric Project

This was the first major dispute successfully resolved bilaterally under IWT. On April 14, 1978 , the governments of India and Pakistan entered into a treaty on the Salal project. The Salal hydroelectric project on the Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir was negotiated by the Janata Party government in India and the Bhutto administration in Pakistan and has not been disputed by subsequent governments in Pakistan . The negotiations and discussions took place for a period of four years between 1974 and 1978 between the Indus Commissioners and the foreign offices. The project provides waters to Pakistan in a regulated manner but involves no diversion by India . However, Pakistan successfully objected to the building of the anti-siltation sluice gates, which were six low-level outlets normally used for controlling sedimentation, resulting in decreased power generation capacity of this project. India also agreed to reduce the heights of the spillway gates from 40 feet to 30 feet.

The Ranbir and Pratap Canals

The Ranbir Canal , built in 1870, was intended to feed the areas of Miran Sahib, Vijaypur and Madhopur. Poor maintenance has ensured that it can now carry just 300 cubic feet per second of water, rather than the 1,000 cusecs it was designed for when originally built. The Pratap Canal , meant to meet the needs of the Akhnoor-Sunderbani belt, has also silted up. [20] These canals off take from Chenab between Salal and Marala headworks. These two canals need urgent repair work to restore their earlier capacities. Under the treaty, India is allowed to take out a fixed quantity of water for these channels. Many restrictions, such as quantum and dates of withdrawal have been imposed on India by the IWT.

The Kishenganga Project [21]

India started the 330 MW Kishenganga hydroelectric projects across River Kishenganga after protracted negotiations between the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the Defence Ministry, and the environmentalists who fear the loss of the serene Gurez valley. The project involves a 103 metre dam across the river before it crosses the Line of Control (LoC) and a channel and a 27 Km long tunnel through the North Kashmir ranges to bring the water to the Wullar lake where a hydroelectric power station will be built as part of an integrated project. The Kashmir Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah signed an MoU with the Union Power Minister in July, 2000 for the project. The National Hydroelectric Power Corp. (NHPC) was entrusted with this project on a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) basis. The CEA cleared the project only in June, 2004.

Figure 8 Courtesy: K.E.W.A ( Kashmir Environmental Watch Association)

Pakistan objects to the Kishenganga project fearing an adverse impact on its envisaged 969-MW Neelum- Jhelum power plant to be constructed with Chinese assistance. This project was initially planned for 1994-1997 but lies dormant because of lack of funds. The Indian Kishenganga project is expected to lead to a shortfall of 21% loss of water flow in Neelum resulting in a 9% reduction in power for the Pakistani project. [22] The IWT allows India to store waters on Neelum for power generation and so Pakistan wants to start its project first in order to deny waters to India claiming the principle of “prior appropriation”, per Paragraph 15(iii), Part-3, Annexure-D which states “where a Plant is located on a Tributary of The Jhelum on which Pakistan has any Agricultural use or hydroelectric use, the water released below the Plant may be delivered, if necessary, into another Tributary but only to the extent existing Agricultural Use or hydroelectric use by Pakistan on the former Tributary would not be adversely affected”.

  India also claims that the waters will ultimately reach Pakistan through Jhelum though not through Kishenganga (Neelum). In the meanwhile, Pakistan has felt the urgency to take up its USD 1.6 Billion Neelum –Jhelum Hydropower Project by appointing a private company, NESPAK, as consultants and complete the international bidding and evaluation by April 2005.

The Baglihar Project

Figure 9 Baglihar Project  Courtesy: Lahmeyer International Gmbh

This project, currently under construction by the Jammu & Kashmir Power Development Corp. on the Chenab in Doda Distt , will generate 450 MW of power when commissioned by end-December, 2005. The contract was extended in 2002 to raise the capacity to 900 MW by Dec., 2007. Pakistan claims that this dam will result in a loss of 7000-8000 cusecs of water a day during the rabi season. India has assured Pakistan that the quantum of water will not be diminished in any way. Pakistan disputes India ’s contention that this is a run-of-river[vii] project and the site is unsuitable for an ungated spillway. The works involve the construction of a “Pondage” of 15 Million Cubic Metre (IWT allows for ‘Pondage’, a term meaning Live Storage, of only sufficient magnitude to meet fluctuations in the discharge of the turbines arising from variations in the daily and the weekly loads of the plant) capacity and an underground power station.  Pakistan claims that the submerged gate spillways of this 429-feet high 1046-feet long dam, allow India to increase the reservoir’s storage capacity to 164,000 acre feet and the ability to stop water for about 26 days during December, January and February affecting canals taking off Marala headworks.  The IWT specifies the following with respect to gated spillways, “If the conditions at the site of a plant make a gated spillway necessary, the bottom level of the gates in normal closed position shall be located at the highest level consistent with sound and economical design and satisfactory construction and operation of the works” (Part-3, Annexure-D of IWT). This project, Pakistan believes, could also lead to inundation of Bajwat Area above Marala headworks due to sudden synchronized releases from Dulhasti, Baglihar and Salal reservoirs on Chenab .  Pakistan also claims that India adopted a stonewalling tactics by not allowing the Permanent Indus Commission members of Pakistan from visiting the dam site for four years after having been officially informed of the project in 1998, little recognizing that the 1999 Kargil conflict and the general mobilization of Indian troops as part of Op. Parakram following the Dec. 13, 2001 Parliament attack, both events of Pakistan’s own making, prevented such site visits. In fact, India suspended the site visit on Dec. 24, 2001 following the decision to mobilize troops. Pakistan also contests that it was informed only in 1998 about the Bagilhar project, though the GoI had informed Pakistan as early as 1992. The Pakistani Commissioner of the Permanent Indus Commission had recommended to his government to appoint a neutral expert in Feb. 2003 and accordingly Pakistan claims to have served two notices to GoI in May and November of the same year. Following the February meeting, India allowed a visit by Pakistani experts to the Baglihar project site in October. The Pakistani Commissioner is reported to have made the same recommendation to his Government in January 2004 after another round of PIC meeting. On December 15, 2004 , India supplied Pakistan with more data on the project as a goodwill gesture and rejected Pakistan ’s claims of violation of IWT. However, Pakistan rebuffed India ’s explanations, refused India one week time to study and reply, and decided to discontinue the talks-illustrating Pakistani leadership uncompromising attitude and intransigence. By mid January 2005, Pakistan requested the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert under Article 9(2)(A) of the IWT, claiming one week later that the World Bank chief Mr.Wolfensohn,  honored with Pakistan’s highest award of Hilal-e-Pakistan during a visit to that country in early February 2005, had assured Gen. Musharraf that there would be no delay in appointing such an expert. While responding to enquiries from World Bank , India advised the Bank that rather it should allow the suspended bilateral course of action to resume rather than get involved at that stage especially as some convergence of views had appeared in the last round of talks in New Delhi . Meanwhile, Pakistan ’s Minister for Education and former head of the ISI, Javed Ashraf Qazi, warned the Pakistani National Senate that the nation might go to war with India over Baglihar “controversy.”

Embankment on Ravi

Pakistan claims [23] that India has built a 15-Km long embankment (also known as River Training Works, RTWs) on river Ravi in the Narowal sector in 2002, in front of Kot Naina, a village in Shakargarh Distt. Pakistan claims that such a construction “so close to the international border” is violative of both the IWT and the Border Ground Rules, 1961 and has caused flooding on its side. [24] By 2002, Pakistan had also decided to build a similar embankment on its side.

Issues Within Pakistan

The Indus River system, which accounts for 65% of water flow within an arid Pakistan , poses several major challenges to Pakistan today. Pakistan faces both political and non-political problems with respect to The Indus River System.

On the political front, there have been serious differences among the various provinces about sharing of the waters. In Sind,  sea water has intruded as much as 54 miles into the estuary of the Indus river due to low or no flow.[25] On the basis of a series of meetings among provinces in March 1991, an agreement, Water Agreement Accord (WAA), [26] was reached on the sharing of the river waters. It stipulated the following allocations

Table 9 Water Allocation among Pakistani Provinces, 1991 (in MAF)









Sindh *








Civil Canals








*        -        Including requirements of

**      -        Ungauged Civil Canals above the rim stations where measurements can be made  

It was also decided to set up in 1992, an “Indus River System Authority” (IRSA), as per provisions of the 1991 Accord, with representation from all four provinces. However, actual water allocations have been made on the basis of “historic use” rather than on the 1991 settlement leading to more resentment in Sindh.

The climatic changes due to global warming have led to depleting flow in all Indus River system of rivers, especially the Indus , which depends on glacial runoffs for 90% of its waters. Generally, the Himalayan rivers also carry a very heavy sediment load especially during summer and rainy season, which in turn leads to river shifting and silting of dams and barrages. The three largest dams in Pakistan , Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma have already lost ~ 25% of their capacity due to silting [27]. This is a serious problem in a country which depends on river irrigation, rather than the monsoon rains, for 74% of its total cultivated land. It is generally agreed that 40% of all the water drawn through the canals at barrage heads is lost because of seepage due to un-lined and porous beds and banks of the canals. [28] Such problems exacerbate the already poor yield of the crops [29, 30] In addition, there is excessive system-loss of water due to improper and antiquated agricultural techniques and heavy cropping of water-intensive varieties like sugarcane and rice. While reeling under increasing drought for the last six years, it is also predicted that Pakistan will have a certain level of drought conditions for the next 15 years [31, 32].. Since the dams mostly act as storage reservoirs during Kharif season and draw-down reservoirs during Rabi[viii], there is an acute need within Pakistan for more storage

Figure 10 Indus Basin and Crops   Courtesy: National Geographic

There have been widespread protests against the proposed dams of Kalabagh at Mianwali, and Basha at Chilas, Gilgit area and the raising of the Mangla dam in Mirpur.  Out of the four provinces of Pakistan , three viz. Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP are against these dams.  Even the illegally occupied PoK and Balawaristan oppose the dam projects of Mangla and Basha. The proposed raising of the height of Mangla Dam [33] in Mirpur, PoK, by another 40 feet, will further submerge that district. It is also possible that if India exercises its rights to store 1.5 MAF on Jhelum , the raised Mangla Dam will not fill up. The crux of the matter is the lack of agreement among provinces on the total water availability within the country.

Meanwhile, the dwindling flows of water and siltation have led to reduced power generation from the hydroelectric plants that are part of the Indus River System.. There is a real possibility of shutting down power generation permanently at Tarbela, leaving it for irrigation purposes only. [34]

Figure 1 1 Courtesy: WAPDA

The dams, barrages and canals built to satisfy the increasing demands of water upstream have made water scarce in the Indus at the estuaries of the Arabian Sea causing the sea to push in and increase the salinity in 1.2 Million acres of farmlands.[36] The discharge of freshwater from the Indus into the Arabian Sea has declined steadily from 85 MAF in the 1940s to about 10 MAF in the 90s and probably less today. Pakistan also uses the waters of the Indus rivers for another purpose, fortification of its defences along Indian borders. It has built a series of “defence canals” at strategic locations which are flooded at times of wars and tensions to prevent crossing by Indian armour and artillery. In 2002, after India mobilized its forces as part of Operation Parakram , Pakistan diverted waters to these “defence canals” accentuating the then already severe water shortage of 50% to over 70%.[38] [39][40]

The Indus remains important to both India and Pakistan in another less visible way. The extension of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) beyond the 200 nautical mile (nm) limit from coastal baseline depends on the ability to prove the sedimentation of the Indus river into the sea and has to be claimed before May, 2009 The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS-III) protocol [37] allows the EEZ to be extended under several conditions. In places like the sedimentary basin of the Indus river, the sediment thickness of the rivers beyond the foot of the continental slope can be used to establish the outer limit of the continental shelf of a claimant. This requires baseline and bathymetry survey data.  A crucial part of the claim is the delineation of the Territorial Sea Baseline (TSB) which is the set of coordinate points that define the line from which the seaward boundaries are to be measured. The continuing Pakistani wrangle with regards to Sir Creek has delayed the compilation and validation of the TSB thereby delaying the computation of the zone boundaries. This is important for India in view of the potential it has for national security, energy prospecting, mining, laying pipelines etc.


Pakistan faces one of the severest water shortages in the world as seen in its’ per capita availability of water per annum fall from 5300 m3 in 1951 to less than 1100 m3 today. This figure is alarming given that it is below the internationally recommended level of 1500 m3 and precariously close to the critical 1000 m3 level. Compounded with the failure to fill the country’s two largest reservoirs to capacity, declining flows in the Indus River System, elusive and contentious the inter-provincial water accord due to mutual suspicions among provinces, and an unsustainable population growth rate of 2% do not bode well for Pakistan’s water situation. Disagreements on construction of new reservoirs, declining groundwater potential[ix], and growing number of disputes with India after a relatively uneventful period of 44 years of water sharing will further complicate matters. In summation, the water situation in Pakistan (a country whose landscape is largely arid to semi-arid) is truly disastrous in spite of the Indus , its tributaries, and a treaty with generous concessions that has been implemented faithfully by upper riparian India to date in spite of grave provocations. Pakistani farmers may be forced to change to higher yielding earlier maturating crops, modify their sowing patterns, and employ micro irrigation in coming years to mitigate shortages-all of which will entail higher costs. Its frivolous objections to Indian projects and a general unwillingness to engage India constructively are partly to force India to amend the IWT to accommodate the emerging patterns of water use in Pakistan , such as water sharing during periods of shortage-a situation not envisaged in the treaty.

References and Footnotes


2.            “A River Story”, Nandita Bhavnani,The Hindu, June 6, 2004

3.            “The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of the International Rivers”

4.            Inter-Dominion Agreement, between the GoI and GoP on the Canal Water Dispute between East and West Punjab

5.            “Water Rationality: Mediating the Indus Waters Treaty”,Undala Z. Alam, University of Durham

6.            Indus Water Treaty: Case Study”, Transboundary Fresh Water Dispute Database

7.            “The Indus Waters Treaty: A History” by The Henry L. Stimson Center

8.            “Fostering Riparian Cooperation in International River Basins”, Syed Kirmani, Guy Le Moigne
 World Bank Technical Paper # 335, January 1997

9.            “World Bank Historical Chronology 1950-1959”

10.        The Indus Water Treaty

11.        Department of Irrigation, Govt. of Rajasthan

12.        “Rivers Water Dispute, Making of a Tragedy”, A.A. Musalman,The News International

13.        “Efficient and Sustainable Irrigation Management in Pakistan ”, Illahi B. Shaikh

14.        “Water Development for Irrigated Agriculture in Pakistan ”, Hafeez Akhtar Randhawa

15.        “From Indus to Sutluj”, Frontline, Vol. 21, Issue 16,

16.        “Turbulence over Wular”,Kamaleshwar Sinha,The Tribune India

17.        “Water Disputes in South Asia ”, Farzana Noshab, Nadia Mushtaq, Strategic Studies, Summer 2001, No.3, Vol. XXI, the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

18.        International River Waters in South Asia : Source of Conflict or Cooperation?”

19.        “Delhi Round of Indo-Pak Talks-II Tulbul Navigation Project/Wular Barrage”, Mallika Joseph

20.         “A Treaty Questioned”, Praveen Swami, Vol. 19, Issue 09, Apr. 27- May 10, 2002 ,Frontline

21.        “330-MW Kishenganga Project gets Technical Clearance”,Iftikhar Gilani, Kashmir Times

22.        Ibid

23.        “Pakistani team will raise water issue with India ”,Khalid Mustafa,Daily Times, May 25, 2004

24.        India diverts flow of Ravi ”, Daily Times, July 15, 2004

25.        Indus River dying a slow death”, Shahid Husain, Daily Times, Apr. 26, 2004

26.        “The Water Accord, 1991”

27.        “Consensus on Kalabagh Dam unlikely in near future” ,Nasir Iqbal, Dawn, Mar. 10, 2004

28.        Indus Waters Imbroglio”,A.A.Musalman,The News, July 21, 2003

29.        “Wheat Yields across the border”, Zafar Samdani, Telmed Pak Agriculture,

30.        “The Wheat crop”, Dr. S.M.Alam, Pakistan Economist, Oct. 11-17, 2004

31.        “Drought and Water Planning”, Dr. Faisal Bari, The Nation, Dec. 6, 2004

32.        “The drought to come”, Editorial, The Nation, Dec. 6,2004

33.        “Raising the height of Mangla Dam”,B.A.Malik,DAWN, Aug. 27, 2001

34.        “Restructuring Tarbela”,Syed Sajid Hussain,DAWN

35.        “The dam debate yet again”, Aamir Kabir, DAWN, Dec. 25, 2000

36.        “A Battle over Indus River Water”, Erik Eckholm, New York Times, Apr. 24, 2003

37.        “For an Ocean Outlook”,B.G.Verghese,The Hindu, Nov. 25, 2003

38.        “Rain to decide fate of wheat crop”

39.        “Countering Baglihar: Pakistan to build Mangla-Head Marala Canal

40.        “Baglihar to dent defence”

41.        “ADB approves $140 Million Loan to Pakistan for National Drainage Sector Project”, Asian Development Bank

Pakistan – National Drainage Program Project: Inspection Panel Request for Inspection”                 

[i] Referred to Kongrigpoke in Tibet

[ii] Referred to Tsangpo in Tibet

[iii] Tibetan mythology has it that Indus pours out of the mouth of a snow-lion.

[iv] Vyeth in Kashmiri

[v] 1 MAF = 43560 Cubic Feet or 0.274430 Million Gallons of water

[vi] ICA means the total area under irrigated crops in a year, the same area being counted twice if it bears different crops in kharif and rabi.

[vii] means that in any period of 7 consecutive days, the volume of water delivered downstream should equal the volume of water received upstream with a few minor restrictions and allowances.

[viii] Kharif sowing period is April thru’ August, Kharif maturing and Rabi sowing period is September to mid-December and Rabi maturing period is mid-December thru’ March.

[ix] WAPDA estimates that the total groundwater potential is 26 MAF, out of which 20 MAF is non-usable saline water.

© 2005 Bharat-Rakshak