Water shortage: Inter-provincial
The Chief Executive directed the
IRSA to meet and resolve the issue ensuring judicious distribution of scarce water
From SHAMIM AHMED
Feb 19 - 25, 2001
As the dry spell is prolonging making water shortage more acute the
inter-provincial dispute over sharing of scarce water resources has deepened further.
Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has failed to develop consensus amongst the provinces
over the sensitive matter of water sharing under the 1991 Water Accord.
On one hand the water crisis is threatening the coming rabi crop making
it difficult to achieve the target set for the agriculture sector in the current financial
year, on the other it is spoiling the inter-provincial harmony and understanding. During
the numerous meetings of IRSA (responsible for judicious waters sparings) during the last
few week, the Chairman of the 5 member authority, Mian Hafizullah, who also represents
Punjab Province had to face to a tough time from smaller provinces to the extent that
Punjab questioned the powers of IRSA to alter the original water award of 1991. In 1994
some changes were made in the original accord by a Ministerial level committee to meet the
emergency in that year. In view of the acute water shortage this year and the complaints
of smaller provinces, the Chief Executive directed the IRSA to meet and resolve the issue
ensuring judicious distribution of scarce water resources amongst all the provinces.
Talking to the newsmen after the latest meeting of IRSA in Islamabad
last week the Chairman, Mian Hafizullah, said that the main irritant, was whether during
shortages, the water should be distributed as per the percentages fixed in the accord or
under the historical usage, which was agreed at a ministerial level committee in 1994. He
argued that under the provisions of IRSA Act, the authority cannot change or set aside its
Sub-clause (3) of Clause 8 clearly states that "A provincial
government or the Water and Power Development Authority may, if aggrieved by any decision
of the authority, make a reference to the Council of Common Interest".
Chief Executive Gen Pervez Musharraf at a meeting with officials on Jan
6, had desired that the dispute over sharing of water shortages should be settled by the
authority through consensus in one month.
Mian Hafizullah, however, denied that the Chief Executive had set any
deadline for resolving the dispute. "The minutes of the meeting contain no such
deadline," he told reporters.
Negotiations for "removing the irritants" would resume from
next week, said Mr Hafizullah, who immediately left for Lahore to brief the provincial
government about proceedings.
Punjab alone is insisting on sharing water shortages as per the
historical usage, while the remaining three provinces are of the view that the shortages
are shared as per the percentages agreed in the 1991 Accord.
A ministerial-level committee in 1994, under the chairmanship of the
then water and power minister, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, with the consensus of all the four
provinces, had decided that during shortages water should be distributed among the
provinces as per their historical share. Punjab maintains that it was a decision of IRSA
but Sindh claim that this decision has no locus-standi.
When asked whether the provinces could resolve the issue, Mr.
Hafizullah said: "We are trying our best". However, he said that if they failed
the matter would be referred back to the Chief Executive.
Mian Hafizullah shared with journalists a brief history of the
Apportionment of Water Accord and Sharing of Shortages. According to the paper, the
shortages below historic uses was first experienced in 1994. This gave rise to the
controversy of sharing shortages. The Punjab had a different interpretation of the para 14
(b) than the Sindh. The President of Pakistan had convened a ministerial level meeting of
the four provinces to resolve the issue. The meeting decided that shortages should be
shared in the ratio of historic uses and the decision was unanimously accepted. IRSA
decided by circulation of the file that the shortages be shared in the ratio of historic
uses or it can be stated that they adopted the decision of the ministerial committee.
Since then they are being shared as per historic uses. The Sindh continued to object this
mode of sharing. Later member IRSA Sindh wrote a note on the file that the matter has been
decided otherwise. Chairman IRSA under para 68-69 (noting file No.81-A) repudiated the
member claim and said that matter should be discussed in the meeting of
Punjab has asked IRSA to seek interpretation from the Supreme Court of
Pakistan about a disputed clause in 1991 water accord that dealt with sharing of water
shortages by the four provinces.
This and two other proposals were presented to IRSA by its Chairman
Mian Hafizullah though three provinces viz Sindh, N.W.F.P. and Balochistan opposed and
wanted a decision through a majority vote.
Punjab's suggestions included an interpretation of section 14 (b) of
the 1991 water apportionment accord, a fresh legal advice from the Law Division or going
back to the Council of Common Interest (CCI) for change in the accord.
It is now a growing feeling in Punjab that it's sacrifice in giving up
the real water share in 1991 was not responded to by other provinces in the same spirit
and hence it should fight back for its lost share. On the other hand, three other
provinces, particularly Sindh, justify the position against the construction of Kalabagh
Dam saying if Punjab was back-tracking on a ten year old consensus agreement (1991 water
accord), how the guarantees on Kalabagh and on its aftermath would be adhered to?
Sources, however, clarified that the Punjab did not suggest it will
directly go to apex court but wanted that IRSA as a representative body should do so.
Punjab proposed that as the IRSA members, representing four provinces, were unable to
resolve the shortage sharing, either the matter be referred to the apex court for
interpretation, or to the Council of Common Interest (CCI) to revise the water accord.
Sindh, N.W.F.P. and Balochistan unanimously are opposed to these proposals and maintain
that the decision should be made through a majority vote. Mian Hafizullah opposed the
majority vote idea on the ground that a decision of IRSA could not be undone by IRSA
itself and only the CCI was the competent forum to do so.
IRSA sources said the meeting decided to take up the dispute with Chief
Executive General Pervez Musharraf who had wanted a consensus resolution in his January 6
meeting with IRSA.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) has placed Pakistan in the high water
stress countries and said that it was likely to suffer further unless an integrated water
resource management approach was taken up.
In its assessment of the water situation for different Asian regions
ADB said to meet the top priority of providing drinking water and sanitation, the use of
irrigation water for food production needs to be much more efficient. It said that Asia's
water shortage was serious and the continent already had the lowest per capita
availability of freshwater resources among the world's continents. Due largely to
population increases, per capita water availability dropped by 70 per cent in South and
Central Asia, 60 per cent in North Asia and 55 per cent in Southeast Asia over the last 50
years, the report said.
It said that the outlook for future was alarming as the demand for
domestic and industrial water was growing rapidly. As a result, water availability per
capita is projected to fall further by 2025, the report said.