Indus Waters Treaty (IWT): All you need to Know

By Naveen Singh|Updated : April 22nd, 2019

Indus Water Treaty (IWT), is a treaty between India & Pakistan to distribute the water of Indus & its tributaries. IWT is considered one of the world's most successful water sharing schemes. Let's read about it in detail.

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT): All you need to Know


The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) was signed on 19 September 1960 which is a water-distribution pact between India and Pakistan. The treaty was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan. This treaty was mediated by the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).


The Rivers:

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) deals in river Indus and its five tributaries, which are divided into two categories:


1. Ravi
2. Beas
3. Sutlej


1. Indus
2. Chenab
3. Jhelum


Details of Indus Water Treaty:

According to the treaty, the entire eastern rivers water is available for unrestricted use within India.

India should let non-restricted water flow from western rivers to Pakistan.

It doesn’t mean that India can not use western river’s water. The treaty clearly states that India can use the water in western rivers for “non-consumptive” needs. Non-consumptive needs mean we can use it for the purpose of irrigation, storage and production of electricity.

The treaty allocates about 80% of the water from the six-rivers to Pakistan.

A Permanent Indus Commission was formed as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty between the two countries.

Although Indus originates from Tibet, China has not been included in the Treaty.


India-Pakistan Disputes Connecting Indus Treaty:

1948: India cut off the supply in every canal that went to Pakistan. But restored it later.

1951: Pakistan accuses India of cutting water to many of its villages like Wagha and Bhaun.

1954: World Bank comes up with a water-sharing strategy for two countries.

1960: Indus Waters Treaty came into force.

1970’s: India starts building hydropower projects in Kashmir. Pakistan raises concern against it.

1984: Pakistan objects India building Tulbul navigation project on Jhelum which India stops unilaterally.

2007: Pakistan objects the Kishanganga hydroelectric plant.

2008: Lashkar-e-Taiba starts a campaign against India and Its chief Hafiz Saeed accuses India of doing water terrorism.

2010: Pakistan accuses India of choking water supply consistently causing floods and droughts.

2016: India reviews the working of Indus Waters Treaty linking it with cross-border terrorism like Uri attack.

Indus Water Treaty: Global Outlook

Indus Water Treaty is one of the most successful water-sharing efforts in the world today. For 59 years, both the countries are peacefully sharing the water of Indus and its tributaries.
Because of the disputes between India and Pakistan over issues, the water treaty comes into the picture.

After the cross-border Uri attack by Pakistan in 2016, the Indian PM Narendra Modi had said: “Blood and Water cannot flow simultaneously.”

There are issues between India and Pakistan, but there has been no fight over the water after the Treaty was sanctioned.

Many disagreements and conflicts have been settled via legal procedures, provided for within the framework of the treaty.

Cutting off the water supply: Possibilities

Not as per the treaty doesn’t give a provision to any of the countries do so.

What India can do is to reduce the water supply that is flowing to Pakistan by utilizing the provisions of the treaty.

But any project which may have such an effect on water flow will take time for its implementation, considering the cost and objections involved.

Pakistan has reportedly objected to 5 hydropower projects and the Wullar Barrage (Tulbul Navigation Project) which must be settled before India can resume work on them.

Walking out of the Pact: Implications

The treaty has no provision for either of the country to unilaterally walk out of the treaty.

Article 12 of the treaty states, “The provisions of the treaty as mentioned in Paragraph (3) shall remain in force until a duly ratified treaty has been concluded between the two governments for that purpose.”

However still if India wants to go about terminating it, the country should abide by the 1969 Vienna convention about the law of treaties.

Projects by India

The Tulbul project or Wullar Barrage is located on the Jhelum river in Jammu-Kashmir.

India calls it Tulbul Navigation Project whereas Pakistan terms it as Wullar Barrage

India proposed to build the Tulbul project which will serve as a “navigation lock-cum-control structure” at the mouth of the Wullar lake, located on the Jhelum river.

The project ensures a water release from the lake to maintain a minimum depth of 4.5 feet in the Jhelum river.

Pakistan protested against the project claiming it to violate the Indus Water Treaty 1960.

Pakistan believes that India could use the project to control the water flow and use it as a geo-strategic weapon against it.

The Project has the potential to disturb the Triple Canal Project by Pakistan.

India unilaterally suspended the Tulbul project in 1987 after the objections.

Despite Pakistan's opinion, the decision to review the suspension signalled the Modi government's intention to revive the project.

Projects by Pakistan

Pakistan constructed Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project without India’s consent with the assistance from World Bank.

The project passes through the Great Rann of Kutch area (Gujarat, India). The purpose of LBOD is to bypass the Salt and impure water which is not fit for agricultural use to reach the sea via Rann of Kutch area without passing through its Indus delta.

The LBOD water is planned to join the sea via Sir Creek but LBOD water enters Indian territory due to several breaches in its left bank caused by floods.

Water released by the LBOD is leading to floods in India and also contaminating the quality of water bodies which are a source of water to salt farmers spread over a vast area.

The Gujarat state of India is the lowermost riparian part of Indus basin, Pakistan is bound to provide all the details pertaining to engineering work that is undertaken by Pakistan to India as per the provisions of the treaty and shall not proceed with the project works until the disagreements are settled by the arbitration process.

IWT: Matters Beyond

Indus originates from Tibet in China. If China decides to cut off or change the direction of the river, it will have an effect on both India and Pakistan.

Climate change is causing the melting of ice in Tibetan plateau, which scientists believe will affect the river in the near future.

Cross- Border Terrorism

The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) was meant to maintain peace and cordial relation between India and Pakistan and the same should be the spirit.

India has always handled the security issues and water issues with Pakistan separately.

As per the statistics, about 80% of Pakistan’s 21.5 million hectares of farmland is irrigated by Indus river and its tributaries. Reducing/Stopping the water flow to Pakistan will lead to ruination there (especially in Punjab and Sindh province).

Breaking the Indus Water Treaty will not be rational move as presently India does not have enough infrastructures to use the additional water available. It may cause a flood in the Kashmir valley due to this.

Deciding to cut off the water supply to Pakistan may aggravate the terror activities in the country.

Not respecting the Indus Water Treaty, may invite global criticism to India as the treaty is an international agreement and may defame India’s image globally which is not a good scenario for a developing nation like us.

Neighbours like Nepal and Bangladesh with whom we have entered into water treaties may turn doubtful of our credibility.

There are concerns that China may also block the water of the Brahmaputra going to Assam.

The Kashmir issue will get a whole new dimension if India withdraws from the treaty triggering the accusation of water terrorism by Terror groups and Pakistan.

India, aspiring for a seat in the UNSC, should safeguard the bilateral treaties

The approach of government should be to utilize provisions available in Indus Water Treaty and plan upon building infrastructure across Indus which will take time.


India has never exercised its rights on the western rivers. Within the framework of the Indus Water Treaty, we can make use of the waters of the western rivers for irrigation, storage, and even for producing electricity, in the manner specified. Even if we just do what we are entitled to do under the Treaty, it would be enough to send shivers across the border in Pakistan. It would be a strong signal without doing anything serious.

But India has always taken the molar higher ground and continued steps that would be mutually beneficial so that peace can prevail in the region.


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