Indus Water Treaty

Context : Indian and Pakistani negotiators ended another round of talks as part of the Indus Water Treaty on “cordial” terms, said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), describing the 118th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission that took place in Delhi on May 30 and 31.

What is Indus Water Treaty?

  • In the year 1960, India and Pakistan signed a water distribution agreement — came to be known as Indus Water Treaty which was orchestrated by the World Bank.
  • This agreement took nine years of negotiations and divides the control of six rivers between the two nations once signed.
  • Under this treaty, India got control over: Beas, Ravi, Sutlej (Eastern Rivers)
  • Pakistan got control over: Indus, Chenab, Jhelum (Western Rivers)

Why this treaty is important for Pakistan

  • Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are the lifelines of Pakistan as the country is highly dependent on these rivers for its water supply. Since these rivers do not originate from Pakistan but flow to the country through India, Pakistan fears the threat of drought and famine.
  • While Chenab and Jhelum originate from India, Indus originates from China, making its way to Pakistan via India.
  • The treaty clearly spells the do’s and don’ts for both countries; as it allows India to use only 20 per cent of the total water carried by the Indus river.

Permanent Indus Commission

  • The Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) is a bilateral commission consisting of officials from India and Pakistan, created to implement and manage the goals and objectives and outlines of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)
  • PIC is the channel of correspondence between the two countries for the purpose of IWT and first step for conflict resolution. If an agreement cannot be reached at the PIC level, the dispute can be referred to a Neutral Expert for the differences already identified in the treaty or referred to the two governments for approaching the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). If the governments too fail to reach an agreement, the Treaty provides an arbitration mechanism. 
  • Under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, the two Commissioners are required to meet at least once every year, alternately in India and Pakistan. 
  • Under the provisions of Article VIII(5) of the Indus Waters Treaty, the Permanent Indus Commission is required to meet regularly at least once a year, alternately in India and Pakistan.

Can India cancel the pact unilaterally?

  • The wording of the treaty has no provision for either country to unilaterally walk out of the pact. Article XII of the IWT says, “The provisions of this Treaty, or, the provisions of this Treaty as modified under the provisions of Paragraph (3), shall continue in force until terminated by a duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two governments.”
  • This implies that if India wants to go about abrogating it, the country should abide by the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties.

Is India also at the receiving end being at the lower riparian with any other nation? Can such an action lead to violation of International law?

  • There is a concept of upper riparian and lower riparian. Upper riparian is a place where the river originates and lower riparian is where it ends.
  • Under international law, an upper riparian can never stop the flow of water to the lower riparian.
  • The Bramhaputra river too originates in China and flows to India. Such a revocation of treaty can also lead to China consider such a possible measure in the near future where it might cite India’s example of what it possibly did to Pakistan.

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