India, Pak. nurse myths on Indus treaty, says Professor

Kashmiri boatmen on the Jhelum river on a foggy day at Sangam, south of Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: AFP

As India and Pakistan continue to exchange barbs over the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty (IWT), Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, an ecological engineering and climatology expert, says both countries “nurse many myths” around the treaty.

While Pakistan keeps complaining about a “deliberate slowdown of discharge” from the Jhelum, Indus and Chenab rivers in Jammu & Kashmir, Professor Romshoo, Head of the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University, attributes it to climate change and a fast-changing discharge pattern. “India is not stealing waters as Pakistan tends to believe. Pakistan is right about water discharge coming down but the reason lies somewhere else — it is the melting of glaciers and global warming,” Mr. Romshoo told The Hindu.

Post-1995 fall in discharge

He said that from the 1960s to 1995, water discharge had steadily increased by around 30 per cent, leading up to the highest estimate of 159 million acre feet (one acre foot is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep) in the three rivers. “After 1995, water discharge started coming down to 117 million acre feet. This worried Pakistan, but the fact remains that it continues to get sufficient water as per the treaty,” Mr. Romshoo said.

Against the beliefs in Pakistan of a significant decrease in supply, Mr. Romshoo said India could still retain 10 million acre feet, which could irrigate large tracts of around seven lakh hectares in the State. “The fact is that water remains under-utilised in J&K. The State has no resources to fund major hydroprojects,” he added.

Of late, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has evolved a fresh narrative around the treaty, describing it as “discriminatory” and planning “to retain waters of six rivers”, including three in Punjab, within India only.

‘It’s impossible’

“One has to be a country like North Korea to think of stopping water flow into Pakistan. It’s impossible. For example, the Kashmir Valley is a flat land and stopping the Jhelum means flooding the land. Even connecting the J&K’s three rivers is almost next to impossible and may incur incalculable costs,” Mr. Romshoo said.

Describing the IWT as the “best treaty” for the two countries, Mr. Romshoo warned against scrapping it. “It’s difficult to scrap the treaty unless an alternative treaty is in place. This kind of treaty is not unique to India and Pakistan. Europe has the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers, where riparian rights are shared between States.”

“Two, scrapping the treaty means fuelling anger in 95 per cent of the population of Pakistan, whose water needs are fulfilled by these rivers,” he added.

‘Common concerns’

In J&K, both the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition National Conference (NC) have called for a re-negotiation of the treaty to make it more “pro-J&K”, and have sought compensation from the Centre for the losses incurred due to the treaty.

But Mr. Romshoo said the futuristic approach for both the countries would be to have joint hydropower projects on a river such as the Indus. “There is needed to rebuild cooperation and synergise common concerns within the scope of the treaty, and outside it through mutual agreement,” he added.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 2:30:10 AM |

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