Jul 20, 2010

Controversial canal

The solution lies in building the multipurpose, 35-maf Katzarah Dam, generating up to 15000 MW hydropower on the Indus, 20 miles downstream Skardu Town

By Khalid Mustafa

Pakistan has experienced water deficit for a long time. In the wake of acute water deficit, both in Rabi and Kharif seasons, Punjab and Sindh are found disputing water distribution. No solid measures have been taken by the incumbent political regime so far to bridge the trust deficit that emerged out of the Chashma-Jhelum Link canal's opening and closure and then re-opening.

General Musharraf took a decision on July 10, 2000 to appease the lower riparian federating unit under which a federal member for Irsa was to be taken from Sindh despite Punjab protest. Owing to this unpopular decision, since then Sindh got 40 percent representation in the water regulatory body and maintained its hegemony as decisions pertaining to water distribution are made through majority votes.

Punjab caters to the food requirements of 80 percent of the population and, under para-2 of the water accord, shares 55.84 million acre feet (49 percent) in water resources of 114.35 million acres of feet (MAF). It possesses only 20 percent share in decision-making at Irsa, whereas Sindh that owns 48.76 MAF (43 percent) water share has 40 percent share in decision-making.

Likewise, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has water share of just 5.78 MAF (5 percent) in 114.25 MAF water resources, and Balochistan 3.78 MAF (3 percent), but both the small federating units also enjoy 20 percent share each in decision-making.

According to Punjab Water Council Chairman, Mr Hamid Malhi, weightage in decision-making to very province should be based on the water share each province has under the accord. Malhi believes water allocation should be revised and based on food targets to the provinces both for Rabi and Kharif seasons.

However, Punjab Irrigation Department has since long been demanding the reconstitution and expansion of Irsa to neutralise water regulators, depoliticise entity which could ensure the water distribution based on justice. "Under Irsa Act, however, all the decisions pertaining to water distribution are made with a majority vote. With the Chief Executive Order in 2000, Sindh manages to monopolise Irsa's decision-making on water distribution in its favour with 40 percent representation," says Malik Rab Nawaz, Secretary of Punjab Irrigation and Power Department.

"Punjab registered its strong protest when General Musharraf gave this order. Now, Punjab seeks the expansion of Irsa by including two more members, each from Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir since Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK also share water of Indus River," he adds.

According to Nawaz, Punjab "also demands that chairman of Irsa should not be less than a retired Supreme Court judge with strong credibility and his appointment should be for three years as currently the chairmanship of Irsa rotates between provinces owing to which Irsa has become highly politicised."

M H Siddiqui, Advisor to Punjab government on water issues, says Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal originates from the Indus and irrigates 30 lakh acres of land of Jhang, Muzaffarabad, Multan, Lodhran, Vehari and Bahawalpur. Taunsa-Punjnad irrigates 15 lakh acres of land of some portion of Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.

Siddiqui reveals that when Pakistan surrendered three rivers of Punjab to India under the Indus Waters Treaty, it was decided that in lieu of the three rivers, a system of water works will be constructed. As per the Indus Basin Development Fund Agreement, signed under the Indus Waters Treaty, Chashma-Jhelum Link canal was constructed to cater to the southern belt of Punjab which would get water from Satluj and some water from Ravi.

"The said three rivers used to provide 4.5 million acres feet of water which Punjab has the right to withdraw from Indus River," says Nawaz.

Siddqui provides documents to TNS about the Chashma-Jhelum Link canal that are clear about the fact that the canal is perennial and that the World Bank consultants designed the canal and Taunsa-Punjnad to run every month both in Rabi and Kharif seasons to feed the canals.

Murad Ali Shah, Sindh Irrigation Minister, is of the view that "Sindh is not against the opening the canal but we want that its water requirements should be first fulfilled."

Bashir A Dahr, Federal Member Irsa from Sindh, says the canal has been operational in the past both in Rabi and Kharif seasons but in Rabi it would run only when Punjab did not have water both in Chenab and Jhelum rivers.

He adds that Sindh is of the view that the canal should be opened after catering to its water needs and those of Balochistan province.

On the question of Punjab's demand, seeking restructuring of Irsa, Dahr says the existing system needs no restructuring. "However, it needs to be depoliticised," he asserts.

Engineer Fateh Ullah Khan Gandapur, former Irsa chairman, believes no amount of Irsa re-composition will solve the issue as the dispute is due to a shortage of water.

Musharraf, he says, appointed additional members to Sindh in violation of the water accord. "The federal member of Irsa should be from Gilgit-Baltistan. There is no need to appoint a Supreme Court judge in a technical body. It will be in violation of Article 4 of Irsa Act as it requires a high-ranking irrigation engineer as member and chairman.

He further says that federal and provincial governments seem "unconcerned about implementing the basic water accord laws: paras 2, 4, 6, and 14 (e)".

The acting chairman holds the view that it is not Irsa's duty to initiate the implementation of schemes under these paras. "Irsa's duty is only water distribution. If the above vital paras of the accord had been implemented, there would have been no water dispute between the two provinces. As Chairman Irsa in 1994, I requested the government to implement the rules required under para 13 of the accord," he adds.

In accord's para 2, 117.35 maf of water was distributed in 1991. At that time, the average available annual river flow was 142 maf. The total water requirement of the provinces and the canal's capacity was 105 maf. Water Accord para 4 provides to store (142-105) 37 maf of balance floodwater that goes waste to sea. If this water was stored, Sindh and Punjab, having equal share of 37 percent, would get 13.69 maf of additional water, though Sindh has less irrigated area than Punjab.

Presently, water availability is less by 10 maf (105-95). This shortage can only be removed by building the 35 maf Katzarah dam. Water accord para 14 (e) requires avoiding all wastages. This means storing floodwater by dams and carrying out water management of the 150 years old, obsolete, wasteful and incompatible canal irrigation system that wastes 50 percent of 105 maf of water due to seepage.

The basic function of the canal is to transfer water from the Indus river to Jhelum river. CJLC is not a regular canal. It is basically a link canal. It may also serve as the flood channel. If Punjab does not exceed its share of water, Sindh should not object to its share through CJLC. Sindh believes Jhelum river water belongs to Punjab and Indus to Sindh. Balochistan always suffers at the hands of Sindh. The solution lies in building the multipurpose, 35-maf Katzarah Dam, generating up to 15000 MW hydropower on the Indus, 20 miles downstream Skardu Town.

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