Law Updates And Consultation Papers

A basic guide to the Indus Water Treaty (Pakistan)

Pakistan-Salient Features of the Indus Water Treaty

By Pir Abdul Wahid

For more information on the Indus Water Treaty please email us at [email protected]

A number of agreements for the sharing of river waters were concluded between India and Pakistani after independence. The most significant of these have been the Indus Water Treaty (1960) between India and Pakistan and the Water Apportionment Accord (1991) between the four provinces of Pakistan.

The Indus System of Rivers in the Indus Basin comprises of the Indus and its five main tributaries i.e. Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. They all combine into one river near Mithan Kot in Pakistan and flow into the Arabian Sea, south of Karachi. The total area of the Indus Basin is roughly 365,000 miles2. Most of it lies in Pakistan and the remaining is part of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, India, China and Afghanistan.

The water dispute between Pakistan and India began when on April 01, 1948, immediately after the winding up of the Arbitral Tribunal; India stopped irrigation waters in every irrigation canal, which crossed the India-Pakistan boundary. This affected 1.6 million acres of irrigated land in Pakistan. The abrupt act stressed the urgent need for Pakistan to formulate an agreement between the two countries regarding the future use and distribution of the combined waters. India demanded that Pakistan recognize that the proprietary rights on the waters of the rivers in Indian Punjab were wholly vested in the Indian government and that the Pakistani government could not claim any share of those waters as a right for areas of Punjab in Pakistan. Pakistan’s claim was based upon the time honored formula that existing uses were sacrosanct and excess water, not previously committed, could be divided amongst the riparians according to area, population etc. This principle had the support of several treaties, nations or states and provisions in the same country.

India agreed to restore some of the supplies in May 1948, when a very pro- Indian temporary agreement was signed. It was, however, generally realized that Pakistan could not survive without a restoration of the full supplies and. on this question there could be no compromise. The controversy was serious enough to provoke an imminent war between the two countries. After eight years of intense negotiation, agreement between the two parties was finally reached in the form of the Indus Water Treaty in 1960.


The Indus Water Treaty was signed at Karachi on September 19, 1960. It consists of 12 articles and 8 appendices, the most significant of these being set out below.

Provisions regarding the Eastern Rivers:

(i) All the waters of the Eastern Rivers shall be available for the unrestricted use of India.

(ii) Except for domestic and non-consumptive uses, Pakistan shall be under an obligation to let flow, and shall not permit any interference with, the waters of Sutlej Main and the Ravi Main in the reaches where these rivers flow in Pakistan and have not yet finally crossed into Pakistan.

(iii) All the waters, while flowing in Pakistan, of any tributary, which, in its natural course joins the Sutlej Main or the Ravi Main after these rivers have finally crossed into Pakistan, shall be available for the unrestricted use of Pakistan.

Provisions regarding the Western Rivers:

(i) Pakistan shall receive for unrestricted use all those waters of the western rivers.

(ii) India shall be under an obligation to let flow all the waters of the Western rivers, and shall not permit any interference with these waters.

Provisions regarding the Eastern and western Rivers: 

(i) Pakistan shall use its best endeavors to construct and bring into operation a system of works that will accomplish the replacement from the Western rivers (and other sources of) the water supplies for irrigation canals in Pakistan, which on 15th August, 1947 were dependent on water supplies from the Eastern rivers.

(ii) The use of the natural channels of the rivers for the discharge of flood or other access waters shall be free and not subject to limitation by either party, or neither party shall have any claim against the other in respect of any damage caused by such use.

(iii) Each party declares its intention to prevent, as far as practicable, undue pollution of the waters and agrees to ensure that, before any sewage or industrial waste is allowed to flow into the rivers, it will be treated where necessary, in such manners as not materially to affect those use.


From Pakistan’s point of view, the settlement plan, as envisaged under the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, had some advantages as well as certain defects.

Advantages of the settlement plan:

(i) After the completion of the Indus Basin Replacement Plan works each country became independent of the other in the operation of its supplies.

(ii) Each country is responsible for planning, constructing and administering its own facilities in its own interests and free to allocate its supplies within its own territories as it deems fit.

(iii) This provides strong incentives to each country to make the most effective use of water, since any efficiency accomplished by works undertaken by either country for storage, transfer, reduction of losses and the like, accrues directly to the benefit of that country. The same is true of efficiency achieved in operations.

(iv) The independence afforded by the program also brought a benefit of a different kind. The location of works serving each country or territories under its control, and the assurances against interference by either country with the supplies on which the other depends has reduced the chances of disputes and tension.

(v) Before the completion of Indus Basin Project works, after the signing of the Treaty, the entire irrigation system in the Indus Basin was based on run-of-the-river supplies. The hydrology of the rivers is such that about 80% of the total water was produced during the monsoon period – July to September – storage projects due to the treaty also increased the canal water diversions.

(vi) The winter supplies became very critical in drought periods. With supplies made available and the storage of water in the Reservoirs, water availability in winter has been assured and so the country is insignificantly affected in drought conditions. Besides total withdrawals and canal heads in Pakistan has increased from about 67 MAF to 104.5 MAF

Defects of the settlement plan:

(i) The traditional sailab (flood) irrigation, the most ancient way of using river waters, on the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi would disappear, because when these rivers are fully developed by India, the traditional floods would decrease or disappear and the sailab areas would not get seasonal water, which permitted cultivation. This area is considerable in extent.

(i) Due to loss of regular flow in the Eastern Rivers, the channels have become silt up and floods in the channels causes great havoc in Pakistan, in addition to other environmental effects.

(ii) The up-keep of the new link canals and storages mean a very heavy additional burden on the cost of maintaining irrigation. Besides, storages are no substitute to the perpetual flow of water as the storages have limited life.


 Under the provisions of Article VIII (1) of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, both India and Pakistan have appointed a Commissioner for Indus Waters. Unless either Government decides to take up any particular question directly with the other Government, each Commissioner is the representative of his Government for all matters arising out of the Treaty and serves as the regular channel of communication on all matters relating to the implementation of the Treaty.

The two Commissioners together form the PERMANENT INDUS COMMISSION whose purpose and functions are (i) to establish and maintain cooperative arrangements for the implementation of the Treaty, (ii) to promote co- operation between the Parties in the development of the waters of the ‘Rivers’, (iii) to make every effort to settle promptly any question arising between the Parties and (iv) to undertake tours of inspection of the Rivers to ascertain facts.

Under the Treaty, restrictions have been placed on the design and operation of Hydroelectric Plants, Storage Works and other river works to be constructed by India on the Western Rivers. India is required to supply Pakistan with certain specified information relating to these works at least 6 months in advance of undertaking the river works, to enable Pakistan to satisfy it that the design conforms to the criteria set out in the Treaty. Within a specified period ranging from two to three months of the receipt, Pakistan has the right to communicate its objections in writing to India, if any.

Under the Treaty, Pakistan was required to construct and bring into operation a system of works, which could accomplish the replacement of supplies for irrigation canals from the Western Rivers in Pakistan. These included those canals that were dependent on water supplies from the Eastern Rivers on 15th August 1947. These replacement works, comprising two storage dams, six new barrages, remodeling of two existing barrages, seven new inter-rivers link canals and remodeling of two existing link canals, have since been completed.

The Josh and Mak Team
If you are reading this, chances are we will become your favourite virtual law firm at some point. In an economy where businesses have lost their strategic edge and are forced to reconsider their traditional concepts of consulting bricks and mortar law firms, which bill by the minute, we can provide you with affordable quality legal advice, delivered anywhere in the world. Since 2010, our firm has already pioneered and adopted the concept of honest and practical legal advice, delivered straight to your email inbox. In the post Covid19 era, working with the Josh and Mak Team means that, you will get the same commitment, discipline and work ethic, without the heavy Bricks and Mortar and the financial baggage which comes with the latter. Let your choice to work with Josh and Mak International become your unfair strategic advantage over your business competitors of the past, present and the future!