"This publication provides a historical picture of the past and present of the Indus Basin covering an area of 1.15 million sq km. The mighty Indus river, originating at a height of 5,494 +MSL near Mansarovar lake in Tibet in the Himalayas, flows for 2,880 km to meet the Arabian Sea. This is the sixth largest river of the world whose agriculture-centred civilization belongs to the fifth millennium BC, only second to that of Euphrates/Tigris of 7th millennium, but older than Nile’s of 4th millennium, or that of Huang Ho (Yellow river) of 2nd millennium. In terms of water carried, the Indus flow is three times Nile’s, ten times Colorado’s and equal to Columbia’s.
Agriculture, like in other contemporary civilizations, was the backbone of Indus too. Megasthenes and Fa-Hsien, as also the modern archaeologists and historians have all eloquently described the magnificence of this basin, its agriculture and artistic skill of its people as evidenced from excavated pottery, stone work, sculpture and seals. Kalibangan excavations in present western Rajasthan (2450-2300 BC) shows a ploughed field, the first site of this nature in the world. It shows grid of furrows, placed about 30 cm apart running east-west and other spaced about 190 cm apart running north-south, a pattern remarkably similar to the one practiced even now. The great bath at Mohenjo-Daro deployed an ingenious hydraulic system. The level of urbanization was seemingly far more advanced than in other contemporary civilizations. Cities were divided into the citadel and residential areas and the streets ran straight, following a grid iron pattern. The houses were built of burnt bricks with remarkable drainage system using ceramic drain pipes, covered sewers and vaulted sub-terranean conduits. Like all the tropical monsoon basins, the Indus Basin has been experiencing floods of varying magnitudes from time immemorial. The archaeological explorations in search of Indus Valley Civilization have revealed the existence of embankments on river banks to protect cities.
The founder of Mughal dynasty in India in the early 16th century, Babur, gave in his memoirs called ‘Baburnamah’ a vivid description of natural history and prevalent modes of irrigation practices in India at that time. The fields were irrigated by transporting water through inundation canals making use of rivers in spate and by sailaba (flooding) irrigation. The dug wells were also put to use to draw water for irrigation. The existence of Karezs (underground water channels) and lifting devices called charas, shaduf or dhenkli, rati and Persian wheels indicates extensive use of groundwater for irrigation. The early stone dams, called Gabar Bunds, and terrace dams, called Kach Bunds, have been found in the arid regions of Sindh and Balochistan, delta area and south-western part of Sindh. The Gabar Bunds captured and stored annual runoff from surrounding mountains to be made available to tracts under cultivation.
With the introduction of canal irrigation in the basin during British rule, necessary legal framework to bring about orderly use and regulation of water also got built-up and levy system of cess/toll/dues on some canals for irrigation/navigation was started. By about 1880, the old settled regions of the Punjab comprising lands carrying proprietory rights had been provided with irrigation facilities either by constructing new canals or by remodelling and restoration of old canals. Warabandi (rotational) system of water distribution amongst users is the hallmark of Indus basin that has worked well for centuries. Various types of warabandi, such as bhaichara (brotherhood), khatewar (farmers’ title wise), nakkewar (farm inlet wise) etc. are still being practised with astounding success. At places, the overuse of irrigation water has given rise to the twin problems of waterlogging and salinity affecting productivity. Efforts are on to tackle the menace.
The basin is home to an internationally acclaimed water sharing accord, called the Indus Water Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 that has survived the test of time. The large infrastructure development in the basin comprising dams, barrages, canals, minors etc. has helped in transformation of the basin as a bread basket for the two countries. Constantly improving command area development and management, besides on-farm developmental works, have imparted better productivity in the region. The irrigation system in the Indus basin is today perhaps world’s largest integrated and physically contiguous system, in a densely populated region that crossed a population figure of 196 million in 1991.