India sends notice to Pakistan to modify decades-old water treaty

Both countries have largely upheld the Indus Water Treaty agreement, to which the World Bank is a signatory

Tthe Jhelum river in Srinagar, the main city in India-administered Kashmir.  Reuters
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India has sent notice to Pakistan seeking modification of a decades-old water treaty, saying Islamabad’s reluctance to resolve disputes over the construction of hydroelectric power projects compels it to seek a review of the pact.

The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan is considered one of the most successful water-sharing agreements in the world despite the historic hostility between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

The treaty gives control over the waters of the three eastern rivers — the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej — to India, and control over the waters of the three western rivers — the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum — to Pakistan.

Named after the vast Indus River basin where the rivers flow from the Himalayas into the Indian plains, the treaty lays down rights of water storage, irrigation and electricity generation for each country.

Both countries have largely upheld the agreement, to which the World Bank is a signatory.

But for several years, Islamabad has raised objections to two run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects that India is building on the Jhelum and Chenab in the disputed Kashmir region.

New Delhi said it sent the notice to Islamabad through the Commissioners for Indus Waters after Pakistan’s intransigence on resolving the issue over the past five years.

"India has always been a steadfast supporter and a responsible partner in implementing IWT in letter and spirit. However, Pakistan's actions have adversely impinged on the provisions of IWT and their implementation, and forced India to issue an appropriate notice for modification of IWT," a government source told Indian media outlets.

Media reports quoting the government source said the purpose of the notice was to provide Pakistan an opportunity to enter into inter-governmental negotiations within 90 days to rectify the material breach of the Indus Waters Treaty.

“This process will also update the treaty to incorporate the lessons learnt over the past 62 years,” the source said.

This photograph taken on October 31, 2017, shows a general view of the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project in Nosari, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir's Neelum Valley.
Several hundred metres underground, thousands of labourers grind away day and night on a mammoth hydroelectric project in contested Kashmir, where India and Pakistan are racing to tap the subcontinent's diminishing freshwater supplies. / AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD QAYYUM / To go with: Pakistan-India-politics-environment,FEATURE by Caroline Nelly PERROT

Islamabad says that the flow of the river water entering Pakistan has been affected due to the faulty design of India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydro-electric projects.

In 2015, Pakistan sought to have a neutral expert examine its technical objections to the projects. It retracted the request a year later and proposed a court of arbitration to adjudicate its objections.

India made a separate request to refer the matter to a neutral expert but, according to the Indian media reports, Pakistan refused to discuss the issue during five meetings of the commission between 2017 and 2022 despite repeated attempts by New Delhi to find a mutually agreeable way forward.

The water commissioners of both nations are required to meet twice a year — alternately in India and Pakistan — to visit project sites.

They met in New Delhi in May last year.

The matter was complicated after the World Bank recently initiated actions on a neutral expert as well as court of arbitration processes, prompting India to issue its notice.

“Such parallel considerations on the same issues are not covered under any provision of IWT,” the reports quoted the government source as saying.

Updated: January 27, 2023, 3:01 PM