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IDSA-IIC Talk on Water Security in the Neighbourhood: Co-operation or Conflict?

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  • December 09, 2009
    Only by Invitation
    1800 to 2000 hrs

    Venue: IIC Conference Hall 1

    Shri N.S. Sisodia

    Ambassador Rajiv Sikri
    Dr. Arvind Gupta
    Prof. K. Warikoo
    Dr. Uttam Sinha

    The Chair introduced the theme stating that as the pressures of climate change, population and economic activities converge on water requirement, the issues of river water will become a geopolitical urgency. In the light of this he briefly put forward to the audience the work of the IDSA Task Force on “Water Security for India: The External Dynamics” due to be published shortly. He noted that riparian politics will emerge as an important issue in the subcontinent in the coming times and that a proper evaluation is required to understand the interconnectedness of water issue.

    Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha spoke on the concept of water security, and expressed it in terms of availability, reliability and quality. He noted that water is a security concern in terms of insecurity arising from control of water. Upper-lower riparian dynamics was explained through the claims of ‘absolute sovereign territory’ versus ‘absolute integrity of the river’ respectively. With no binding water course treaty, Dr. Sinha expressed the view that states in the region will have to work out their politics before they can work out their riparian relations. And a good way to do it is to prioritise water concerns and frame sensible politics around it.

    Amb. Rajiv Sikri expressed concerns over China’s water diversion plans in Tibet. He pointed out that China is a water-stressed country where distribution of water is hugely uneven. Hence, China’s resource aggressiveness is not surprising. While India has no control on what China is doing in Tibet, it can raise concerns and sensitize the international community to the fact that millions of people are dependent on the water resources of Tibet. Hence, Tibet’s water resources are a resource for humanity. He also expressed the need to focus on Tibet from an ecological perspective, more so given the impact of climate change on glaciers. He stated that China will not think twice to use water as a pressure tactic against India. The Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh is not only because of territory but also because of huge water resources.

    Dr. Arvind Gupta viewed water as a critical source of tension between India and Pakistan. While the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) may have served a purpose at the time it was signed, there is a need for a fresh look at the Treaty. Dr. Gupta discussed the health of the Treaty in the context of India-Pakistan relations and brought in the issue of cross-border terrorism. If bilateral relations deteriorate, it will adversely impact the functioning of the IWT. Dr. Gupta also considered the “wild cards” that could impact the IWT. The China factor is one, considering that Indus and Sutlej originate in Tibet. China can also team up with Pakistan to put pressure on India on water issues. Another wild card could be terror attacks by militant groups, especially on dams and storage facilities.

    Prof. K. Warikoo noted that past experience shows that the attitude of Kashmiri people has been critical but has had a low impact on the functioning of the Indus Water Treaty. However, in future, their views may have a greater impact on the Indian government considering that coalition governments are becoming a norm both at the Centre and the States. The long-standing grievance in Jammu & Kashmir that the IWT has deprived the state of its huge hydroelectric potential is an emotional issue. The state has a hydel-power potential of l5,000 MW, yet this potential cannot be easily harnessed because of Pakistani objections and nitpicking under the ambit of the Treaty.

    Prepared by Dr. M. Mahtab Alam Rizvi, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.