May 13, 2010

Delayed for now

Lift canal project has been planned to irrigate a huge area which is surrounded by villages partially or fully controlled by militants

By Raza Khan

As economic situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa deteriorates some of the projects meant to provide relief to the people and turn around the province's economy to some extent could either not be launched or planned. One such project is the Chashma Lift Irrigation Canal.

The basic concept of a lift canal is to build a channel that lifts water from the river level to an upper stratum in order to irrigate agriculture land. Even after announcement by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani about launching of Chashma Lift Canal, National Economic Council (ECNEC) has not given approval to the project. Under the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord a provision of constructing a 60 feet lift canal in southern NWFP was provided while there were two other lift canals which experts have been arguing to be feasible in the same area. However, none of the lift canals have been constructed.

According to Israrullah Gandapur, a member of NWFP Assembly from the area to be irrigated by the lift canal, the economic benefits of the Chashma Lift Canal are many but the bureaucracy is creating impediments in the construction. The Chashma Lift Canal, if constructed, will irrigate around 0.3 million acres in district DI Khan and the adjoining areas. This area holds great agriculture potential which has yet to be exploited. Traditionally, water-rich Peshawar valley, including the districts of Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshera, and Swabi, has been the hub of agriculture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As agriculture land in Peshawar Valley has come under pressure from commercial interests, there is need to use cultivable land that is presently arid. The land in Peshawar Valley has increasingly been used for residential and other non-agriculture purposes, greatly reducing agriculture production to suffice for the ever-increasing population.

Imran Khan, a landlord from Korai, located in D I Khan district, tells TNS that it is very easy to bring the land under cultivation because the vast tracts are completely leveled. "Thus, the land does not need much agriculture input other than water and cultivation is cost-effective."

An important aspect of building the Chashma Link Canal is that once it is operational, the province will be able to use its share of 8.5 percent of water according to the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord. Since the coming into force of the accord, the province has been using significantly less of its share of water due to unavailability of canal infrastructure to channel the water to fields.

The province has been given a share of 8.78 million acres feet (MAF) of water in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991, out of which only five and a half MAF of water has been available for irrigation. It is unable to utilise 3.28 MAF water of its share due to incapacity to channel the water through canals. Thus, this water has been flowing down to other provinces. According to provincial government estimates at the moment, its share of water worth Rs65b is being used by other provinces.

The province has not been able to fully utilise its share of water due to lack of resources to construct canals and reservoirs. This, in turn, has been due to non-provision of funds and budgetary support from the federal government. Abdul Akbar Khan, parliamentary leader of PPP in the Provincial Assembly, is of the view that if the Central Working Development Party (CWDP) does not approve the Chashma Link Canal project, the provincial government should arrange funding through donors and initiate work.

The NWFP Minister of Irrigation, Pervez Khattak, tells TNS that some objections have been raised on the PC-I of Chashma Link Canal project when it was first presented in 2004. However, the project was declared feasible in 2006. The minister said that the total cost of the project is Rs61bn while the annual return from it would be around nine billion rupees.

He informs that at the moment 30 percent of the NWFP's water is being used by other provinces and the provincial government has asked the federal government for Rs103bn compensation in this regard. If the province gets this amount it can construct the CLC with the same money.

At the moment, the province has a shortfall of 2.6 billion tonnes of wheat and local experts view that if the CLC Project is completed the province will be in a position not only to overcome the shortfall but could also produce wheat in bigger quantity.

Recently, Chief Minister, Amir Haider Hoti, has stated on the floor of the Provincial Assembly that CLC was the only mega project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the water sector but, unfortunately, has gone through several unnecessary filters. He says the province was not using its share of water given to it under the 1991 accord because it did not' have the required infrastructure.

The most important aspect of the CLC project is that it would irrigate a huge area which is surrounded by villages and towns partially or full controlled by militants. "As the area to be irrigated in inhabited by poor Seraiki-speaking people there is great apprehension that they might get involved in militancy due to economic pressures and militants who promise money and holy fighting," says Khan.

It is anticipated that once the project is completed it will most likely bring about a green revolution in the area, providing work to a large number of local people. The province has a total of 0.8m acres of cultivable land while the CLC, if completed, would irrigate 0.3 million acres. The final approval of the CLC was expected to be given by March this year. However, the project has not been given a go ahead until now.

The calculated cost of the project (Rs61bn) is 141 percent higher than the original cost of the project when it was first presented in 2004. So, if there is further delay the cost of the project will increase further.

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