Indus Treaty, river water sharing issues dominated headlines in 2016

New Delhi: Amid the chill in Indo-Pak ties post Uri attack, water became another issue of face-off between the two neighbours during the year gone by with India virtually freezing talks with Pakistan over the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

The government’s recent constitution of a high-level task force to look into IWT’s strategic aspects and its strong view of World Bank setting up separate mechanisms to entertain Pakistan’s concerns over two projects in Jammu-Kashmir suggest it may not soften its stance over the issue this year or near future.

The government in 2016 saw some progress in implementation of Namami Gange programme after it took two years to work out action plan: it started work on phase I of cleaning the river and sanctioned 41 STPs development/rehabilitation projects of 808.23 MLD capacity.

It also approved Rs 2,446 crore for development of ghats and crematoria and floated a committee to frame draft Ganga Act to ensure speedy implementation of the programme, which is dear to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Until now, 128 projects have been given approved under the programme at an estimated cost of Rs 9,419 crore.

The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation identifying 99 irrigation projects, many of them in drought-prone areas, for fast-tracking their completion within three years and releasing two tranches of funds through NABARD until now for the purpose were other key developments in 2016.

The Centre’s efforts to launch the nearly Rs 10,000-crore Ken-Betwa river-linking project, the first such attempt at connecting inter-state rivers, early last year did not materialise. The project, which received sanction from

National Wildlife Board in August, still awaits forest and environment clearances. In addition, the government is yet to finalise funding pattern for the national project before launching its ground work.

Among other issues, the government approving an amendment to Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 to set up a single permanent tribunal to adjudicate in disputes among states over sharing river water subsuming existing dispute-specific tribunals was another significant step.

Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti refused to comment on the future of the IWT, which neither India nor Pakistan can revoke unilaterally.

Sources though maintained the situation apropos to the water distribution pact was “exceptional” given the treaty had weathered all hostilities between the two countries ever since it was framed in 1960.

“It was a very strong step taken by the government (in September). We had not been in such a situation in the past, it is an exceptional situation. The Indian government though will strive to exploit country’s due rights under the treaty,” a source said.