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Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)

Context: Recently, India has received Pakistan’s response, seeking a review and modification of Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) for management of cross-border rivers.

Indus Waters Treaty Background

  • Indian government in January 2023 notified Pakistan of its intent to modify the IWT.
  • Reason: Pakistan’s intransigence over objections to two Indian hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir.
    • 330MW Kishanganga hydroelectric project (Jhelum) and the 850MW Ratle hydroelectric project (Chenab).
    • India has argued that the projects were within the treaty’s fair water use.
    • However, Pakistan has refused to conclude negotiations with India in the bilateral mechanism — the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) of experts that meets regularly — and has often sought to escalate it.

About Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)

  • It is a Waters-sharing agreement signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, under the supervision of the World Bank.
  • Sharing of rivers: IWT regulates the use and distribution of the Indus River system, which consists of the main Indus River and its five tributaries – the Ravi, the Beas, the Sutlej, the Jhelum, and the Chenab.
    • Three eastern rivers – the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej.
    • Three western rivers – Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus main.
    • According to the treaty, the waters of eastern rivers go to India, whereas the waters of western rivers primarily go to Pakistan.
    • The treaty allows India to use western river waters for limited irrigation use and unlimited non-consumptive use such as power generation, navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.
  • Management: IWT establishes a Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) consisting of two Commissioners, one from India and one from Pakistan, to promote cooperation between the two nations and resolve any questions arising from the treaty’s interpretation or implementation.
    • Once a year, the PIC meets alternately in India and Pakistan and whenever either Commissioner asks to meet.
    • PIC inspects rivers and works to find out what’s going on with various developments.
  • Dispute resolution mechanism: The IWT provides a three-step dispute resolution mechanism, under which:
    • The Permanent Indus Commission is required to handle disputes, or can also be taken up at the inter-government level.
    • Disputes/differences unresolved on the first level can be taken to the World Bank who appoints a Neutral Expert (NE) to come to a decision.
    • Eventually, if either party is not satisfied with the NE’s decision or in case of “disputes” in the interpretation and extent of the treaty, matters can be referred to a Court of Arbitration.
Indus Waters Treaty
Indus Waters Treaty

Need for Review of Treaty

  • India Underutilizing its share of water: India can develop 13.4 lakh acres of irrigation in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh under the Indus Waters Treaty.
    • Treaty allows India to store 3.60 million acre-feet water from the western rivers — Jhelum, Indus and Chenab. However, there is practically no storage capacity developed so far in Jammu and Kashmir.
    • India is also allowed to build run-of-river dams —without blocking the flow — on the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. This provision also gives India an advantage of temporarily choking the flow of waters in the rivers given to Pakistan under the treaty.
  • Review would allow India to modify the treaty to put a stop to Pakistan’s recent and past contradictory and inconsistent transgressions, going against treaty mandates.
  • Strategic Advantage: Rivers have been used as weapons of war as they provide significant strategic advantages to countries and armies.
    • Controlling rivers allows nations and military forces to disrupt enemy access to water and food, restrict enemy movement, and win battles.


  • In the last six decades, the Indus Waters Treaty has been one of the most successful water-sharing endeavours in the world today. However, there is a need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the agreement to address climate change.
  • Therefore there is a need to renegotiate the treaty terms, update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the agreement to address demands of the two countries amid the rising climate crisis.
  • It is also crucial to strengthen the IWT to make sure that water is used and distributed sustainably, and transgressions do not happen.

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