Recalling the Indus Water Treaty or Nehru’s Sixth Blunder

Immediately after last month’s aborted Indo-Pak NSA-level talks, a participant in a Rajya Sabha TV…

Immediately after last month’s aborted Indo-Pak NSA-level talks, a participant in a Rajya Sabha TV debate said “Let’s see how their Water Talks go.”

“Water Talks? Indo-Pak Water Talks? What, pray. are they?” That may well have been the response of the common man whose reading is, for several reasons, confined to the mainstream media which, alas, is obsessed with saturated with reporting debates over the judicially ordered hanging of a much-wanted terrorist and a much-married woman suspected of killing her daughter.

Kishanganga Dam

But trust the PTI to be on the ball for hard news where the national interest is concerned. Its report, filed from Lahore datelined August 27 was published prominently in a pink newspaper of Mumbai. And its intro told us that “The three-day talks between India and Pakistan here over designs of KishanGanga Dam and four other hydroelectric power projects at the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers respectively has ended inconclusively, but the two sides hoped to find a solution in next meeting in Delhi.” The report also went to quote the leader of the Pakistani delegation as saying “We are optimistic that India will redress our concerns and the matter will be resolved without going to the International Court of Justice. In case our concerns are not met we will have no other option but to move to the ICJ.”

The “Water Talks” report in “The Dawn” newspaper of Pakistan was from Islamabad and it quoted the Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif as saying “We will contest our case at an appropriate forum if India encroaches upon our water rights.”  He also said that India should honour the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

What is there in that treaty which compels India to bow to Pakistan for the permission to build dams for its power from hydroelectric projects?

Unless you are at least 75 years old, you are unlikely to know much about the IWT. Why? Because it was signed between India and Pakistan exactly 55 years ago today — 19th September 1960.

Professor K.Warikoo

 As to why the Treaty was necessary and what it contained, in brief, let’s go over to Professor K.Warikoo, a Ph.D. in Central Asian Studies (School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an eminent scholar from Jammu & Kashmir State. In a 6,845-word Paper (with 64 References) he wrote in June 2006, he made the following salient points relevant to the subject of this particular article.

  1. The Indus river is 2880 kms. long and the length of its tributaries is 5600 kms. The main Indus river rises in the Kailas range in southwestern Tibet. Its five tributaries from the east are the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and the Beas, while its three tributaries from the west are the Kabul, Swat and the Kurram rivers
  1. The dispute over sharing of Indus waters came to the fore immediately after the Partition of 1947 because the existing canal head works of Upper Bari Doab Canal and Sutlej Valley canals fell in India State of East Punjab, while the lands being irrigated by their waters fell in Pakistan’s West Punjab and Bahawalpur State. In order to maintain and run the existing systems as before partition, two Standstill Agreements were signed on 20 December 1947 between East Punjab and West Punjab. These interim arrangements were to expire on 31st March 1948, after which East Punjab started asserting its rights on its waters. On 1st April 1948 the East Punjab Government in control of the head works at Madhopur on the Ravi and at Ferozpur on the Sutlej, cut off water supplies to the canals in Pakistan fed by these head works, after the Standstill agreements had expired and because the canal colonies in Pakistan served by these head works did not pay the standard water dues.
  1. The West Punjab government (in Pakistan, remember) agreed to deposit the dues immediately in the Reserve Bank of India. Though this agreement of May 1948 was not final, it did provide some basis for dealing with the problem. But soon it was found that Pakistan was unwilling to stick to the agreement, as it was seeking to use the Indus water dispute as a political tool in the battle over Kashmir being fought at the United Nations. Pakistan also sought to create anti-India hysteria in Pakistan over this issue. Pakistan unilaterally abrogated the agreement, and refused to pay the dues to India. Instead, Pakistan asked for a reference to the International Court of Justice for a final verdict, which was objected to by India. Pakistani media and politicians launched a campaign over the issue of canal waters dispute to create a scenario of serious crisis in Indo-Pakistani relations. All along Pakistan’s policy was to seek third party adjudication, which India was opposing. Enter the USA and its World Bank creating worldwide fears of another Korea.
  1. After more than eight years of negotiations to resolve the dispute over the usage for irrigation and hydel power of the waters of the Indus water system came the IWT between India and Pakistan.
  1. The main features of the Treaty were:(i) The waters of the three eastern rivers — the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej — would be available for unrestricted use by India, after a 10-year transition period.(ii) The waters of the three western rivers–the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab–would be allowed to flow for unrestricted use by Pakistan except for domestic, non-consumptive and agricultural use and for generation of hydro-electric power run-of-river-plants in Kashmir.(iii) During the transition period of ten years, India would continue to give Pakistan some supplies from the eastern rivers

    (iv) India would contribute in ten equal annual installments the fixed sum of Pounds Sterling 62,060,000 towards the cost of replacement works in Pakistan.

    (v) Non-consumptive use, domestic use etc. would be permitted in all the rivers by both the countries, but such use should not in any way affect the flow of rivers and channels, to be used by the other party. (Emphasis added)

    (vi) India would contribute in ten equal annual installments the fixed sum of Pounds Sterling 62,060,000 to the Indus Basin Development Fund towards the cost of replacement works in Pakistan.

    (vii) The two countries would regularly exchange data regarding the flow in and utilisation of waters of the rivers.

    (viii) A Permanent Indus Commission would be constituted with the Commissioners for Indus Waters of the two countries. The purpose and functions of the Indus Commission would be “to establish and maintain cooperative arrangements for the implementation of this Treaty.”

    (ix) If the Indus Commission fails to reach agreement on any matter pertaining to the Treaty it would be referred to a Neutral Expert. And, if the latter certifies that the difference is in the nature of a dispute, the matter would be dealt with by the two Governments/ a Court of Arbitration.

Nehru’s assertion in the Lok Sabha on 30 November 1960 that “we purchased a settlement, if you like; we purchased peace to that extent and it is good for both countries”, was not borne out by the subsequent events. Members of Parliament belonging to both the Congress, PSP and Jana Sangh pointed to the glaring mistakes committed in conclusion of this Treaty. Congress MPs from Punjab and Rajasthan, Iqbal Singh and H.C. Mathur called the treaty disadvantageous to India stating that both their home states “had been badly let down”.  Ashok Guha, another Congress MP lamented that “interests of India had been sacrificed to placate Pakistan“. Ashok Mehta, leader of the PSP in the Lok Sabha described it as a “peculiar treaty under which Pakistan, already a surplus area, would be unable to make full use of her share of the Indus Water and would have to allow it to flow into the sea.

Clearly,  Jawaharlal Nehru had committed a blunder—his sixth on J&K, as we shall see.

On the contrary, India after the fullest development of the water resources, would still be short of supplies”.38 But Nehru’s efforts of creating goodwill and understanding with Pakistan by giving concessions through the Indus Treaty, did not bear fruit. That Nehru himself had realised this soon after, is confirmed by N.D. Gulhati, who led the Indian delegation during the negotiations over Indus. Gulhati recalls: “When I called on the Prime Minister on 28th February 1961, my last day in office, in a sad tone he said, ‘Gulhati, I had hoped that this agreement would open the way to settlement on other problems, but we are where we were“.
Clearly,  Jawaharlal Nehru had committed a blunder—his sixth on J&K, as we shall see.

Convincing proof that Nehru signing the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan 55 years ago was a blunder came last year from the horse’s mouth. Ironically, it came from the grandson of his very dear friend Sheikh Abdullah, the Sher-e-Kashmir, for whom Nehru did so many favours such as making him a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, allowing him to form a separate Constitution for the State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

Yes, it was Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of that State, who blasted the IWT on August 23, 2014.

According to a PTI report of that date from Srinagar, Omar Abdullah, said the “losses caused to the state on account of Indus Water Treaty are enormous.” He said “due to this Treaty, J&K cannot utilize its water resources to its will for generating hydro power, irrigating agriculture fields and providing drinking water to the people.” He mentioned the hurdle caused by the IWT in launch of the huge water supply project for Greater Jammu to utilize Chenab water to meet the requirements of the people for next 25 years.

Thus, while Nehru believed that the IWT was “a good thing for the country” it has actually become a blinder. What he signed sign 55 years ago was a Treaty of a suicidal trap from which Indians are unable to escape.

Here’s why.

 Of the various features of the IWT enumerated in Part I of this article, the most damaging to free India, was that the eastern rivers given to India carried just 20 to 25 percent of the total flow of the Indus Basin as against the 75 to 80 percent in the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan. Further, the bulk of the irrigation canals earlier developed on the Indus system were gifted to Pakistan. And out of 26 million acres of the pre-Independence Indian land irrigated annually by the Indus canals, 21 million acres lay in Pakistan and only 5 million acres in India.

Secondly, it was a crime to have denied free India the use of the western rivers for consumptive and agricultural use as well as for generating hydro-electric power without consent of Pakistan to ensure that flow of rivers and channels did not affect Pakistan.

It is this mandate of the IWT which has allowed Pakistan to scuttle hydel-eletric projects in J&K by creating a controversy over their design, height and spillways of a proposed Indian dam. That is why India had to abandon the construction work on Tulbul Navigation Project in 1987 and also led to obstruction of the construction of anti-siltation sluices at the Salal Hydel Project. Similarly, Pakistan created such a noise over the Baglihar Dam on the Chenab river that the Rs.4000-crore project with an installed capacity of 450 MW, which the J&K government began constructing in 2000, could be started only in October 2010, three years later than scheduled. And now it is Kishan Ganga Dam and four other hydro-electric power projects at the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers that have become the subject of “Water Talks” although they are “run-of-the-river” projects permissible under the IWT.

Thirdly, the IWT entailed India being made to pay a near fortune (62,060,000 Pounds Sterling) for the water infrastructure of …a confirmed enemy country! This remains the most ludicrous and anti-national deed ever committed by any Prime Minister of any country. It becomes unbelievably stupid considering that of the estimated $1000 million (partly in local currency) required for the replacement and development works of the Indus system, $697 million out of the $747 million of grants and loans from the USA and its friendly countries, $691 millions were to be spent in Pakistan and only $ 56 million in India. As against this “Other Backward Class” treatment of India, consider that Pakistan got all her development underwritten by the Bank’s financial plan besides the World Bank’s Press release remaining mum on the additional U.S. grant of 235 million dollars in local currency.

No nation, no Prime Minister, could be as naïve as that.

As a matter of fact, Nehru’s signing of the Indus Water Treaty on September 19, 1960 was his sixth blunder on J&K. The earlier five were as follows:

  1. Not allowing Sardar Patel, Minister of States, Home and Deputy Prime Minister, to deal with the Maharaja of Kashmir on accession to India. The man who had successful made the Nawab of Junagadh to change his accession from Pakistan to India in September 1947 and flee the country, and who was so successively overseeing the making of a unified India out of 562 Princely States, was denied the opportunity of pursuing the Kashmir Maharaja — for reasons which can be traced to Nehru’s fetish about J&K’s relations with India..
  2. A day before the beleaguered Maharaja of J&K was sure to sign the Instrument of Accession (IOA) document in India’s favour after Pakistani armed tribals and covert Pak forces had reached Srinagar, Nehru sent a telegram dated 25th October 1947 to the UK Prime Minister saying:

“I should like to make it clear that [the] question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India. Our view, which we have repeatedly made public is that [the] question of accession in any disputed territory or State must be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people and we adhere to this view”. This assurance of abiding by the “wishes of the people” was well-nigh anti-national, when no such provision was even mentioned in the IOA.

  1. Even as the war of 1947-48 against Pakistan over Kashmir was going on after J&K State had acceded to India, Nehru, without informing Sardar Patel, went to All India Radio Station in New Delhi on November 2, 1947, and in his broadcast said:

“We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and juster offer.”

It was the totally unwarranted Plebiscite promise yet again — the one that the Hurriyat leaders repeatedly press on India day after day.

  1. By the end of 1948 India’s armed forces responded to the logistical challenge of long distances, bad roads and rickety bridges, mobilized their significantly larger resources and were ready to crush the Pakistani forces, and occupy Pakistani territory. Pakistani forces were losing everywhere, and there were no resources in reserve, whose mobilization could have turned the situation around. India was close to victory, but Nehru refused permission to Major-General Thimayya to move into Muzzafarabad and win back India’s lost territory. Instead, in November 1948 the government (Nehru, who else?) requested UN mediation to resolve the conflict.
  2. During the Constituent Assembly Debates (December 9, 1946 to January24, 1950,), it was his confidante, Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a Minister without portfolio, whom Nehru asked to draft an Article that was to be specially carved out for J&K State where the tallest political leader was Nehru’s apple of the eye, Sheikh Abdullah, an ambitious and scheming politician. That draft was really the modern day Article 370 which has created a big cleavage between J&K and the rest of India, especially with regard to extra special privileges given to elite citizens known constitutionally as “Permanent Residents”. Ayyangar had apparently briefed Sardar Patel on its contents which were totally opposed by the latter. However, Nehru met Patel before the Constituent Assembly Debate and wanted him to remain quiet on that draft Article. Accordingly, that Article 370 continues to plague the Indian nation till this date, even as Nehru’s belief that it will be gradually eroded into its abrogation. Thus, Article 370, included in our 1950 Constitution as a “Temporary” provision continues to be “Temporary” 65 years later.

After the above five blunders comes Omar Abdullah’s strong repulsion over the Indus Water Treaty’s effect on J&K. It was Nehru’s 6th blunder that hounds and haunts us even 55 years after it was created with his signature.

These six are apart from Nehru’s Himalayan blunders on China, socialistic and leftist creations, his almost total neglect of rural development including education, his cover anti-Hindu attitude when he, against the will of the nation’s President, got the Hindu Code Bills passed but not a Uniform Civil Code etc.

Just what is this Nehru “legacy” which the Congress talking about? And just why does Sonia Rajiv Gandhi call Nehru as the “Congress’s tallest leader”?

Arvind Lavakere has been a freelance writer since 1957. He has written and spoken on sports on radio and TV. He currently writes on political issues regularly. His writings include a book on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.