Understanding Indus Water Treaty


World Bank proposal was for the three eastern rivers to be ceded to India, in return for funding for dams, barrages and link canal under the ‘Indus Basin Replacement Works’ (IBRW), to transfer surplus water from the western rivers to the canals in north and south Punjab, deprived of the waters of Ravi and Sutlej rivers.


Tarbela dam was built on the Indus to store the surplus flood water which was at that time flowing to the sea. This water was then to be transferred to the canals in north Punjab and south Punjab.


A dam can transfer water only through a barrage; also a huge structure like a barrage is built only if a canal is to be taken out from the river. Chashma barrage was built to feed Chashma-Jhelum link canal to irrigate 30 lakh acres in upper south Punjab. Taunsa barrage was built to feed Taunsa- Panjnad link canal to irrigate 15 lakh acres in lower south Punjab.


These are all part and parcel of IBRW and not flood only canals as Sindh claims, to be operated only when there is surplus water in the river. No agreement between Punjab and Sindh, under whatever political pressure, can circumvent the Treaty which is very clear on this point. WB could not have proposed ceding of three rivers to India without a workable replacement plan. That we have not been able to work it is our failure.


Replacement water to the canals in north Punjab was to be provided through a left bank canal at Kalabagh dam.


However, Sindh differs with the above interpretation.


Punjab is stealing Sindh’s water from Tarbela dam, Chashma barrage, Taunsa barrage and will steal Sindh’s water from Kalabagh dam which actually is a barrage with many canals taken out from it.


–   The water stored in Tarbela dam was never Sindh’s water, it was the surplus flood water which was escaping to the sea at that time, and which Tarbela dam stored under the heading of ‘replacement water’.

–  The correct position of the barrages has already been explained.

–  Only one canal, the left bank canal will be taken out of KBD, It is IRSA which controls releases from the dams (or don’t you read newspapers), and Sindh has three votes in IRSA against one vote for Punjab (the Sindh delegate, the federal delegate also from Sindh, and the Balochistan delegate who always votes along with the Sindh delegate, because Sindh controls Balochistan’s supply from Sukkur barrage).

–  Engineers from the Sindh irrigation department are posted at major head works of Punjab and have not reported any theft of water (theft does not take place at dams and barrages but at the canals within each province by the waderas and big zamindars)


Another objection is that a canal cannot be taken out directly from a dam. What if the elevation of a large tract of land does not allow gravity flow from a barrage – which is the case at KBD.


Without the left bank canal at KBD north Punjab will not get any water from any dam on the Indus, be it Kalabagh, Tarbela, Bhasha, Akhori or Skardu dam, two thirds of north Punjab will revert from irrigated to barani with a 50% reduction in national food production.


What will be the future of agriculture in Pakistan if the biggest tract of cropland is denied water from any dam in the future.


Punjab is the bread basket of Pakistan, deprive it of water and you deprive the country of food.

Khurshid Anwer