Indus Water Treaty: Pak Intention to Stall Indian Dam Construction

In a bid to create irritants in the construction of Kishenganga and Ratle dams by India, Islamabad in its typical style had taken up misconceived complaint on the basis of breach of design specifications delineated under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) to the World Bank’s Court of Arbitration (CoA). The World Bank in response recently appointed Prof. Sean Murphy as Chairman of the CoA and Michel Lino as the Neutral Expert (NE) in line with its responsibilities under the IWT.

Notwithstanding, the treaty’s most generous and unequal sharing of waters favouring Pakistan vis-a-vis India, Pakistan continuously resorts to complaint against India whenever the latter tries to develop any project on its side. This despite the fact that it is the only water-sharing pact in the world that compels the upper riparian state, i.e. India to defer its rights and interests to the downstream country, i.e. Pakistan.

Under IWT, Pakistan gets maximum share of water resources. Waters of Western rivers – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab – amounting to around 135 Million Acre-Feet (MAF) annually – have been assigned largely to Pakistan, giving more than 78% of water share of the Indus River system. Of all the waters of the eastern rivers – Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi, India gets only 33 MAF annually for unrestricted use.

Ironically, the Pak objections on India’s Kishenganga (330 MW) and Ratle (850 MW) hydroelectric power plants on the tributaries of Jhelum and Chenab Rivers are on technical grounds rather than construction of dam in principle, despite India’s full compliance to the technicalities stipulated under the IWT. Notably, Islamabad sought World Bank intervention seeking specifically appointment of CoA. It is driven by the intent to disrupt development of water resource on the Indian side rather than any genuine apprehension.

As per the treaty, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on the tributaries of Jhelum and Chenab Rivers. India as per IWT can create water capacity storage upto 3.6 MAF on Western rivers but no storage capacity has been created so far which largely flow into Pakistan. India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run of the river (RoR) projects on the Western Rivers in IWT, like freeboard, intake, spillway, bondage and low-level outlet.

Since India has never breached technical specifications of IWT, the Pak effort to seek World Bank’s arbitration is pointless. Islamabad’s only intention appears to impede the development of water projects on Indian side and distort India’s image on the false pretexts.

Seeking arbitration from the World Bank on water sharing with India is part of Islamabad’s blame game. As it has been lax and inefficient in addressing its economic woes and meeting the priorities of development, Islamabad, as part of its strategy to obfuscate, blames India for its own failures. The fact is that Islamabad’s concerns are overlaid by its changing demographics, increased urbanisation and rising demands on the agricultural and industrial sectors while it has failed to develop and manage water resources available to it. Pakistan is fast emerging as one of the most water stressed countries in the world due to its failure in capacity building despite IWT guaranteeing it sufficient water.

One reason is that Islamabad lacks resources for maintenance and development of its water resources to ensure adequate supply for catering to increased demand and ensure environment and people friendly flow. While India is developing projects to exploit allotted water resources, Pakistan is trying to stall or delay these projects so as to blame India for its failure.

Along with the crisis posed by rivers and streams running dry, Pakistan’s dangerously depleted groundwater levels have left most parts of the country parched. If present trends persist, the entire country may face “water scarcity” by 2025, according to a report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

IWT is the only international treaty that has survived for more than 6 decades, despite three wars fought by the two neighbouring countries. The treaty remained unaffected and hence is considered one of the most successful water-sharing endeavours in the world.

Analysts point out that there are loopholes in the treaty that are extensively of technical nature which Pakistan exploits to stall legitimate Indian projects. This is hampering the scientific utilisation of the water with the latest technology which are now available.

Islamabad had objected to Indian dam construction earlier also. The World Bank had appointed Raymond Lafitte as the NE in the dispute relating to Baglihar dam by India on the Chenab River as a run-of-the-river plant. In its ruling in 2007, the NE upheld India’s right to utilise the waters of the western rivers more effectively calling them within the ambit of the treaty for power generation.

The canals in Punjab and Rajasthan – Rajasthan Feeder and the Sirhind Feeder – had become old and were not maintained properly. This had resulted in the lowering of their water carrying capacity. The infrastructure to utilize the waters has remained under-developed in Indian Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Thus, the water from the Harike Barrage on the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej in Punjab was usually released downstream into Pakistan. Pakistan is getting more waters than its entitlement in the Eastern rivers also. Islamabad is also looking at Kishenganga and Ratle projects with similar intention.

Pakistan had also raised objections on the construction and technical designs of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower plants located on Marusudar River, a tributary of the Chenab in Kishtwar district of J&K. Pakistan wants to engage India in unwarranted objections for capturing Indian water resources by referring technical specifications of these dams.

India has been transparent and cooperative on the water sharing issue with Pakistan. Rather than focussing on developing and managing water resources available to it, Islamabad is using false pretexts to derail and delay development on the Indian side. Earlier on several occasions India and Pakistan had discussed the exchange of hydrological and flood data. Every time India underscored that all its projects are fully compliant with the provisions of the IWT.

The time has come now for Pakistan to resolve its own funds crisis and policy paralysis on development and management of its water resources rather than blaming it on India. There is also need for revisiting the IWT’s technical specifications in the wake of climatic change that has taken place in the last six decades since IWT was signed in 1960. The basin’s size and volume is getting altered by climate change and it is going to intensify in future. Experts predict that there could be instances of more high-intensity rainfall as well as long stretches of scanty rainfall. There would be a high influx of water due to glacial melt.

The contribution of glaciers in the Indus basin is higher than in the Ganges or Brahmaputra basins. Indian plans would actually benefit Pakistan in managing and averting climate related future disasters. If Pakistan cooperates and calibrates its efforts for water resources development and management with that of India, it would go a long way to prepare a robust system against natural disasters caused by climate change. Pragmatism also entails that there is a need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the IWT to address these issues as well as climate change concerns. But Pak authorities always see conspiracy rather than possibility of peaceful coexistence with India. Would they change for the people of both the countries? Has it learnt from recent floods?