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’60 years of the Indus Water Treaty’

Published: 28th Sep, 2020

September 19 marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan, a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship. 


September 19 marks the 60th anniversary of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan, a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship. 


  • Back in time, partitioning the Indus rivers system was inevitable after the Partition of India in 1947.
  • India, being the upper riparian state has shown tremendous conviction in maintaining international law.
  • However current developments may force it to change the way it been going about things.
  • Since the partition in 1947, the distribution of rivers was a must. Pakistan was given the three western rivers. These are namely, Indus Jhelum and Chenab. India on the other hand was given the three eastern rivers- Ravi, Beas, and Satluj.
  • India had been termed as very lenient. Considering the fact that it had allowed so much access to Pakistan despite being the upper riverian.
  • With time the relations between the two nations soured, yet they remained committed to the international decisions.
  • After the treaty, they fought 3 wars. Despite this, they were able to maintain international law.
  • The Indus Waters Treaty, hailed as one of the finest, the most sophisticated and comprehensive international water treaties, remains a contentious issue even after 60 years. For India and Pakistan, the blame game carries on.


The Indus Water Treaty

  • The Indus Water Treaty is a World Bank-brokered settlement signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960, between Pakistan and India to use the water available in the six rivers of the Indus system.
  • The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.

  • Under this treaty, India got control over three ‘eastern rivers’:
    • Beas
    • Ravi
    • Sutlej
  • While Pakistan got control over three ‘western rivers:
    • Indus
    • Chenab
    • Jhelum
  • India is allowed to use 20% water of the western rivers for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes.
  • IWT granted 3.6 million acre-feet (MAF) of “permissible storage capacity” to India on the western rivers but due to poor water development projects, 2-3 MAF of water easily flows into Pakistan.
  • Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80.52 percent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
  • It also gave Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers. Such generosity is unusual of an upper riparian.
  • This treaty addressed specific water allocation issues-
    • providing unique design requirements for the run-of-the-river dams to ensure steady water flow
    • guarantee power generation through hydroelectricity
    • provides a mechanism for consultation and arbitration should questions, disagreements, or disputes arise between the incumbents. 

Important facts on Indus river

  • The Indus is one of Asia’s mightiest rivers. It is one of the most important rivers in the world running across three major Asian nations, namely China, India and Pakistan.
  • It originates near the Mansarovar Lake in the Tibetan plateau, moves through India and runs most of its course through Pakistan, making it the longest river in Pakistan.
  • The Indus was known to the ancient Indians in Sanskrit as Sindhu.
    • Its name Indus comes from a western adoption of the name Sindhu. 
    • The Indus played a key role in one of the greatest ancient civilizations, the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • From its source in the northwestern foothills of the Himalayas, it flows through the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir and along the length of Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.
  • The river and its five tributaries together make up the Indus Basin, which spans four countries and supports 215m people.
  • The Indus is the western most River system in the subcontinent. Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj are its main tributaries.
  • It drains the largest number of glaciers and mountain slopes of the Karakorum, Ladakh, Zaskarand Himalayan Ranges. 

Dispute over Indus Water Treaty?

  • Even though India and Pakistan have been sharing the waters without major dispute, experts state that the agreement is not fairly negotiated as India is only allowed to use only 20% of the six-river Indus water system.
  • Pakistan recently sought an international arbitration if India sought to build hydropower projects on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers.
  • Though the agreement has been seen as one of the most successful water-sharing pacts, the current tension between the two South Asian neighbours might well lead to a flashpoint.
  • Experts say that future wars could well be fought over water.

Can India ‘revoke’ the Treaty?

  • The Indus Water Treaty has survived three wars between the two countries.
  • Although India has often raised the issue, saying that for a treaty to work there had to be “mutual cooperation and trust” between the two sides, this seems to be more pressure tactics than any real threat to review the bilateral agreement.
  • The idea that India can frighten Pakistan by threatening to cut off river waters or release excess water during monsoon season is nothing new.
  • A unilateral abrogation of the treaty could attract global criticism and New Delhi would only use the rivers as pressure tactics and threaten Pakistan.

Recent issues and challenges

  • Water disputes between India and Pakistan are deepening. For almost sixty years the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) survived diplomatic tensions but recent upstream water infrastructure projects have rekindled conflicts.
  • Although its framework regulating water distribution between the two states was generally accepted by both parties, the treaty came under increasing tension as the conflict in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir deepened.
  • The allocation of control over the tributaries of the Indus is still contested, and certain ambiguities have allowed India to build infrastructure legally, which Pakistan claims undermines its water security and the treaty itself. This ambiguity has led to polarised interpretations on both sides.

Challenges outside the scope of the treaty

  • Dangerous flooding due to global warming: Global warming will raise the sea level and make Himalayan glaciers, the ultimate source of the Indus, melt ever faster. Dangerous flooding is expected to become more frequent and more severe.
  • Reduced rainfall: Climate change is also expected to affect monsoon patternsin South Asia, and could result in less rainfall for India and Pakistan. This could be disastrous as summer monsoon rainfall provides 90% of India’s total water supply.
  • Environmental degradation and massive deforestation: Moreover, the basin’s watershed area has suffered tremendous environmental degradation and massive deforestation on both sides of Kashmir, leading to a decrease in the annual water yield.


In recent times, the calm between the two countries seems to come to an end. In the coming time, India might decide to take up some action and force a renegotiation. India might very well decide to ask international organizations to look into the matter.

Verifying, please be patient.

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