It is difficult to say whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim at a public meeting in Bathinda in Punjab that every drop of water flowing into Pakistan from the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi would be stopped from going there and would instead go to farmers of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir was mere election rhetoric (Assembly polls are due in Punjab soon) or had a firm basis to it.
In any case, if he meant that what is due to India – 20 per cent as per the terms of the Indus Valley Treaty signed with Pakistan in 1960 – would be utilised in this country that is a perfectly legitimate thought and cannot be faulted. If much of the water is flowing into the fields and is being wasted by Pakistan as Modi has claimed, it is high time that it be utilised in India instead for the benefit of our farmers. For an enhancement of the share beyond the 20 per cent, India will have to fulfill certain legal requirements. Modi hinted at that when he said that the solution for the problems of water could be found out through common dialogue. India could of course go to the International Court of Justice if bilateral dialogue fails.
The Prime Minister was indeed right in saying at the public rally that successive governments kept sleeping on this issue and the farmer in India kept crying for want of water. It is unpardonable that India did not build dams all these years to harness the waters from the three Indian rivers when the treaty clearly provided for a 20 per cent share for India. Modi’s comment that if Punjab farmers get sufficient amount of water, they could produce ‘gold’ from the soil and could fill the coffers of the country is unexceptionable. That India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, erred in agreeing to give 80 per cent of the waters from Indian rivers to Pakistan on the basis of goodwill is another matter but the fact is that India did agree to signing the unequal treaty.
India can hardly lose track of the fact that Pakistan’s all weather ally China is the upper riparian state in the Brahmaputra, a river which flows into India’s northeast. Making any precedent in which an upper riparian state is overbearing can give hints to Beijing on the water-sharing issue which would not augur well for India. Rhetoric apart, India will have to tread warily on the treaty issue.