India’s water generosity!
Less well known is India’s generosity on shared river waters, although it is now reeling under a growing water crisis. The world’s most generous water-sharing pact is the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, under which India agreed to set aside 80.52 percent of the waters of the six-river Indus system for Pakistan, keeping for itself just the remaining 19.48 percent share. Both in terms of the sharing ratio as well as the total quantum of waters reserved for a downstream state, this treaty’s munificence is unsurpassed in scale in the annals of international water treaties.
Indeed, the volume of water earmarked for Pakistan is more than 90 times greater than the 1.85 billion cubic meters the US is required to release for Mexico under the 1944 US-Mexico Water Treaty. This unparalleled water generosity, however, only invited trouble for India. Within five years of the Indus treaty, Pakistan launched its second war against India to grab the rest of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir before India had recovered from its humiliating rout in 1962 at the hands of the Chinese. In the first war soon after its creation in 1947, Pakistan seized more than one-third of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
India’s 1996 Ganges river treaty with Bangladesh guarantees minimum cross-border flows in the dry season — a new principle in international water law. In fact, the treaty equally divides the dry-season downstream Ganges flows between the two countries, while in other seasons when the total Ganges flows average more than 71.48 billion cubic meters per year, Bangladesh’s share is larger than India’s.
In 2010, Pakistan filed a case with the International Court of Arbitration to halt India’s construction of a modest-size, 330-megawatt Kishenganga hydropower plant. Even as India last fall suspended work on the project in response to the arbitration proceedings, Pakistan has fast-tracked its own three-times-larger, Chinese-aided hydropower project at a nearby border site on the same stream, apparently to gain priority right on river-water use under the doctrine of prior appropriation.
Meanwhile, India’s portion of the Indus basin — according to the 2030 Water Resources Group, an international consortium of private-sector companies and institutions — confronts a massive 52 percent deficit between water supply and demand.
Lost in such big-hearted diplomacy is the fact that a parched and thirsty India is downriver from China, which, far from wanting to emulate India’s Indus- or Ganges-style water munificence, rejects the very concept of water sharing. Instead, the Chinese construction of upstream dams on international rivers such as the Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Arun, Sutlej, Indus, Irtysh, Illy and Amur shows that Beijing is increasingly bent on unilateral actions, impervious to the concerns of downstream nations.
Over the next decade, as if to underscore the strategic importance it gives to controlling water resources, China plans to build more large dams than the US or India has managed in its entire history. By seeking to have its hand on Asia’s water tap through an extensive upstream infrastructure, China challenges India’s interests more than any other country’s.
Generosity in diplomacy can yield rich dividends if it is part of a strategically geared outreach designed to ameliorate the regional-security situation so that India can play a larger global role. But if it is not anchored in the fundamentals of international relations — including reciprocity and leverage building — India risks accentuating its tyranny of geography, even as it is left holding the bag.
— Courtesy: The Japan Times