INDIA HAS constituted a high-level task force under Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Nripendra Mishra to decide on measures to be taken to ensure full utilisation of its share of river waters under the Indus Water Treaty. This comes amid a fresh round of bickering with Pakistan over an old issue relating to a hydroelectric project in Jammu and Kashmir.
Government sources told The Indian Express that India was not considering the option of walking out of the Indus Water Treaty in the near future, but was keen to ensure that all the water it was entitled to was fully utilised for development.
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The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 allocates the waters of three rivers of the Indus basin to India and of the other three to Pakistan. All the six rivers flow from India to Pakistan. India has full rights over the so-called eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — while it must allow the three western rivers — Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — to flow unrestricted to Pakistan.
India can utilise water of western rivers for “non-consumptive” uses, in the manner prescribed in the treaty, but has not done so. Even the waters of the eastern rivers have not been exploited to their full capacities.
Following the Uri attack, the government had decided to take a hard look at the treaty, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that “blood and water could not flow together”.
The formation of the task force is another step by the government to assert its rights on the river waters in the Indus basin. The task force has NSA Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Finance Secretary Ashok Lavasa among its members. It is expected to hold its first meeting next week to review all projects and other ongoing activities on the six rivers on the Indian side.
The task force already has an emerging crisis to deal with. Pakistan has lodged a fresh complaint with World Bank over a run-of-the-river project on Kishanganga river in Jammu and Kashmir. It has also raised a dispute over construction of Ratle Dam over Chenab river. The World Bank, which brokered the Indus Water Treaty in 1960, acts as mediator in such disputes. Pakistan has complained that the Kishanganga project violates the treaty and demanded setting up of a Court of Arbitration.
India has opposed the need for a Court of Arbitration and has filed a separate request with World Bank, asking only for the appointment of a neutral expert to assess whether the design of the project conformed to provisions of the treaty.
The World Bank had earlier said it would initiate both proceedings but, following India’s objection, it announced Wednesday that it was declaring a ‘pause’ to allow the two countries to “consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements”.