Sindh government has its own reservation
Mar 18 - 24, 2002
The approval of the Thal canal project by the
Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) without
consulting the Sindh province and bypassing the normal procedure has
evoked sharp reaction in the concerned circles. 0n a protest lodged by
the Planning and Development Division of the Sindh Government the
Federal Government has directed the Planning Commission, Ministry of
Water and Power Development and the government of Punjab to clear the
apprehensions of Sindh on the issue of Thal canal before proceeding
with the project.
The controversial Thal flood water canal project
was approved by the (Ecnec) in its meeting on Feb. 28 following a
heated debate between the officials of Sindh and the Water and Power
Development Authority (WAPDA). During the arguments between Wapda and
Sindh officials it transpired that the authority had already started
work on the project without the approval of the competent authority.
Wapda official, explaining the authority's point of view, recalled
that the project had been inaugurated by President Gen. Pervez
Musharraf on Aug. 17, soon after unfolding his economic development
plan and the authority had already started work and had already spent
substantial amount of funds.
The Sindh government maintained that Wapda should
have waited for an approval by the competent authority before starting
work on the project. It pointed out that the opinion of the Indus
River System Authority (Irsa) had not been sought by the Planning
Commission, which was mandatory in the project concerning irrigation,
under a decision of the federal government. It transpired that Irsa
had also written a letter to the relevant authorities reminding them
that the work on the project could not be initiated without seeking
their opinion particularly in view of the fact that one of the
federating units had serious reservation on the project.
Sindh officials stressed that the project should be
reverted to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) for
discussing the technical details of the project. They observed that at
the stage of the CDWP no working paper had been circulated by the
sponsoring agency. The main thrust of the arguments of the Sindh
government was that there had already been serious shortage of
irrigation water in the country and the construction of canal would
further aggravate the problems of the province.
The canal would be taken out from the Chashma
Jehlum Link Canal and would irrigate an area of 1.5 million acres in
southern Punjab. in its protest letter the Planning Division of the
Sindh government alleged that PC-l of the project was not signed by
anybody and asked the federal government to direct WAPDA to return the
PC-1 of the project to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP)
for consideration and comments. Previously it was sent late and could
not be discussed at CDWP. A copy of PC-1 should also be sent to Sindh
government so that its representative could study and evaluate it
before attending CDWP meeting.
The Sindh government has maintained that
construction of any new canal must be in conformity with the 1991
Water Sharing Accord and the views and comments of Irsa may be
obtained before consideration of the scheme again in the CDWP. The
nomenclature shows that the canal will be a flood canal, but there is
no check that this canal will not flow during normal conditions.
As expected, the decision to go ahead with the
construction of the greater Thal canal in Punjab has led to an
outpouring of outrage in Sindh. The decision comes at a time when the
country is facing one of the most serious water crises in its history,
with the Tarbela reservoir reaching its dead level and Mangla soon
likely to follow suit. Given this alarming backdrop, the stage is set
for another acrimonious row between the country's two largest
provinces. This scenario is both depressing and predictable.
Agriculture forms the backbone of Pakistan's economy and water is
obviously an emotive issue. As the lower riparian province, Sindh had
always been extremely wary of any major irrigation project in the
north. The angry reaction to the construction of the Thal canal is
only the most recent example. While Punjab argues that the Thal canal
is a flood canal that will only be used from April to mid-October,
Sindh sees it as an attempt to divert more water away from the
province's share. It also fears that Punjab could double the canal's
capacity and use the water whenever it pleases. Sindh believes that
work on the project had started even before it was approved by the
competent authority and a consensus reached. Sindh fears that Punjab
could double the canal's capacity and use its water whenever it
It is commendable to note that the Federal
Government has taken immediate note of the protest from Sindh Province
and directed the concerned authorities to first address the concerns.
The Sindh should be provided firm guarantees that the flood water
canal will really be used only to store flood water as its
nomenclature suggests and would not be used for any other purpose.