Against the noisy backdrop of the outrage against the Pulwama attack, Union minister of water resources Nitin Gadkari on Thursday added the declaration that water of three eastern rivers flowing into Pakistan will be diverted to the Yamuna river, causing immediate ripples of concern as to whether India would break the terms of the historic Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).
According to the treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, India has full rights over the waters of three eastern rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — whereas, waters of three western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — go to Pakistan. All six rivers are part of the Indus system.
In the charged nationalistic and distinctly anti-Pakistan rhetoric that has followed the attack, neither India's prime time news channels nor its social media citizens could be blamed for construing Gadkari's tweet to have meant that India was planning to cut off water supply that was in some way essential to Pakistan. That without the supply of this water, which Gadkari promised would now be supplied to "our people" in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, Pakistan would suffer enough for revenge to be exacted on the nation.
India had revoked the "most favoured nation" status it had once granted to Pakistan and has mounted a diplomatic offensive to isolate it in the international community, surely it would now place rocks on a river?
However, that was not the case. Neither was India going to break an integral treaty nor were the rivers in Pakistan's portion going to run dry because of India.
Neeta Prasad, ADG of Water Resource, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation spoke to ANI to clear up the confusion: "The government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. This is not a new decision. He is simply reiterating what he has always said."
Explaining further, Prasad said Gadkari was not talking about diverting Pakistan's share of Indus water but had only repeated his earlier stand of not allowing excess water from India's share to flow into Pakistan. India, an upper riparian state, would only find a way to use the unutilised water from the three eastern rivers that had until now flowed into Pakistan. The Indus Waters Treaty would be upheld.
Unbroken in 60 years
The Indus Waters Treaty, brokered with the help of the World Bank and signed between Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is one of the few agreements that both countries have upheld, over 60 years, three wars, countless skirmishes and boiling tension. For all their scuffles over terror, these two countries have never fought a water war.
This unusual equanimity is credited to the careful brokering of the terms of the treaty. Disputes that have emerged have been solved in the courts.
Notably, it recognises that since Pakistan's rivers receive more water flow from India, India should be allowed to use the western rivers' water for limited irrigation use and also for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property and fish culture.
A telling paragraph in the treaty, which sums up why Gadkari's threat is not a damaging one to the Indus Waters Treaty is:
"Each Party agrees that any Non-Consumptive Use made by it shall be so made as not to materially change, on account of such use, the flow in any channel to the prejudice of the uses on that channel by the other Party under the provisions of this Treaty. In executing any scheme of flood protection or flood control each Party will avoid, as far as practicable, any material damage to the other Party, and any such scheme carried out by India on the Western Rivers shall not involve any use of water or any storage in addition to that provided under Article III," the treaty importantly declares.
In the know and unbothered
Talking to Dawn on Thursday, secretary of Pakistan's Ministry of Water Resources Khawaja Shumail said Pakistan was neither concerned and nor would it object to India diverting water of the eastern rivers. "Actually India wants to construct the Shahpurkandi dam at the Ravi basin. This project has been abandoned since 1995. Now they (India) want to construct it in a bid to use their own share of water that goes unutilised and finally flows to Pakistan. So if they want to store it or construct this dam, we will have nothing to do with it," Shumail said.
He did, however, add that Pakistan would indeed object should alterations be made to the western rivers' flow of water.
Shumail was right. In a follow-up tweet to his popular announcement on Thursday, Gadkari had nearly echoed the Pakistani official. "The construction of a dam has started at Shahpur-Kandi on Ravi river. Moreover, Ujh project will store our share of water for use in J&K and the balance water will flow from the second Ravi-Beas link to provide water to other basin states," he had tweeted.
The treaty also allows India to build hydropower projects in the Indus river system, including the western rivers meant exclusively for Pakistan's usage.
"...with respect to the use by India of the waters of the western rivers for the generation of hydro-electric power under the provisions of Article III (2) (d) and, subject to the provisions of this Annexure, such use shall be unrestricted: Provided that the design, construction and operation of new hydro-electric plants which are incorporated in a Storage Work (as defined in Annexure E) shall be governed by the relevant provisions of Annexure E. (sic)"
Pakistan is well aware of the modalities of Gadkari's plan with respect to the western rivers. As recently as 1 February, a three-member delegation of experts from the country, headed by Pakistan's Commissioner for Indus Waters Syed Mehr Ali Shah had completed a general tour of inspection of various hydropower projects being built at the Cheban basin of India, including the 1,000 megawatt Pakal Dul, the 48 megawatt Lower Kalnai, the 850 megawatt Ratlay and the 900 megawatt Baglihar dam.
A couple of days before the Pulwama attack, India had shared the design data of the Balti Kalan and Kalaroos projects on the Jhelum basin and the Tamasha hydropower project on a tributary of the Indus. Both the projects will take place on "western" rivers, the waters of which are to be used by Pakistan, and follow the regulations prescribed in the Treaty for construction on Pakistan's rivers by India for the purposes of generating hydroelectric power.
Reason for worry
On Friday, Gadkari furthered his resolve (first raised after the Uri attack by Pakistan in 2016) to stop the water from flowing into Pakistan. "We will spend the requisite money to build dams. We do not want even a single drop of water to reach Pakistan," the minister said. Speaking to ANI, he said that he had already directed his department to prepare a report on how to block "other water resources" from flowing into the neighbouring country.
However, should this resolve ever extend to three of Pakistan's rivers, a veritable blow would be dealt to the backbone of Pakistan's agricultural economy, which is the livelihood of its entire labour force. It is only then that Pakistan has reason to worry.
The three western rivers contribute water to nearly 77 percent of the country's population. Scholars have often spoken on how the entire country can be destroyed in a single sweep, should the water flow of the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum ever be stopped.
The Indus region's role in contributing to Pakistan's hydroelectric power projects is crucial and friendship with India is the most cost-effective way of ensuring that this role is maintained. Pakistan is already crippled by economic disadvantage and would likely not be able to withstand an onslaught on its most vital lifeline.
However, faltering on the conditions of the agreement would also mean inviting a variety of global censure that India would stagger under. Basking in the glow of even China joining hands with the United Nations Security Council in condemning the Pulwama attack, India too would not wish to stand against the global powers that be. Especially since it is these powers which it hopes to utilise in its offensive against Pakistan.
For now, the Indus Waters Treaty remains untouched.
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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2019 16:49:27 IST