Government views it as vital for survival — Opposition takes it as a threat to national integrity
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Dec 26 - Jan 01, 2006
Kalabagh dam issue has once again appeared on the surface of the political fronts. The government seems to have a valid point for advocating the construction of water reservoirs in the face of fast depleting water resources. According to an estimate the agriculture which is the backbone of the national economy would be in need of water to cater to over 20 million acre feet of land to avoid a national disaster by 2020.
While the opposition, in the Province of Sindh, has its own reservations especially on the back of existing state of affairs regarding downstream flow of water in the Indus which they argued already presenting a deserted look and if the water flow was diverted towards the dam that would add to the problem.
Although the two sides, the government as well as the opposition, seem firm on their stands, yet an amicable solution through dialogue can resolve the issue. However it will require patience, tolerance and respect to each other's viewpoint. It sounds extremely ugly and a failure of wisdom when some of the opposition leaders stressed to accept their version otherwise the issue would be a serious threat to the national integrity. For God's sake people should have some patience and not to be so rigid. People have suffered a lot for wrong decisions in the past. We have to take care of the interest of 150 million living in this country. Every problem has a solution, use your brainpower to reach a solution protecting the supreme national interest and that is related to the sovereignty of people of this country.
Actually, it is an air of mistrust prevailing among the smaller provinces mainly because of inequitable distribution of national resources in the past. President Pervaiz Mussharraf has rightly pointed out the need of harmony among the provinces and that could only be developed through protection of the interest of the smaller provinces through corrective steps. Why people have started thinking in terms of the provinces? Why don't they think that if any thing is being developed in Punjab that is also a part of Pakistan and belongs to every Pakistani? Why a national approach is missing? Who created and why this wedge is created? What corrective steps are required to mitigate such parochial feelings? It's a question to ponder upon for the political pundits and the people sitting at the helm of affairs.
Spelling out the significance of construction of water reservoirs, President General Musharraf has said that if the work on new dams was not taken up now, a process of deserting would start in Sindh after 2010.
In order to have a collective approach on the issue, the President has already launched a mass contact campaign to make the people of Sindh realize the gravity of the situation and the need to build new reservoirs. He stressed the need for consensus on the issue and said that reservations of Sindh would be removed. Due to sedimentation in Tarbela and Mangla reservoirs, water resources of the country were depleting fast and, therefore, construction of new dams had become essential. He also clarified that the campaign was not confined to any particular dam, actually he was working for more dams and for formulating a national water policy under which large and medium water reservoirs could be built to meet the country's future agriculture needs. The issue would be discussed in the National Assembly and relevant reports would be published in Urdu, Sindhi, English and Pashto for eliciting public opinion and educating people about merit and demerits of dams. The issue could also be discussed in Senate and it could even be taken up at the level of judiciary.
In view of the sensitivity of the matter, the President had come to directly contact the people of Sindh to tell them about the importance of water reservoirs. A decision on the dam would be taken after taking the people of Sindh into confidence while he assured to go to the last extent to address their genuine reservations. The new dams would bring more than 30 million acres of land under cultivation and strengthen the economy. Dams were vital for Pakistan's survival and any delay in a decision on dams will be suicidal for us, he remarked.
A detailed designing and feasibility report of the Kalabagh dam had been completed and if work is started on the project in 2006 it would be completed in 2010. The government could provide judicial and constitutional guarantees with regard to distribution of water from the dam, he assured. Institutions of parliament, judiciary and the executive could be put in action for taking such decisions and to protect the interests of Sindh, he added.
Construction of other dams including Bhasha, Akhori and Katzara, the president was of the opinion, were likely to be completed in 2016, 2014, 2019, respectively, and completion of the dams along with Kalabagh by 2020 means that the country would have 20MAF of water to meet its agriculture needs.
Justifying the construction of Kalabagh dam he pleaded that it could store monsoon flows and additional flows coming from the Kabul, Chitral, Sawat, Soan and Haro rivers and added that it was the only project ready for implementation.
There was also the problem of an access road to Bhasha as some 350km road would have to be built for the purpose. The Bhasha dam site was away from the monsoon belt and therefore from the feasibility point of view, Kalabagh was the most suitable site for building a dam. For the satisfaction of the people in Sindh it could be ensured that no canals were taken out from the Kalabagh dam and that it remained a storage reservoir alone.
President Pervez Musharraf said that the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award would be announced along with a decision on new water reservoirs. The parliamentary committee formed to decide the issue of the concurrent list would complete its work soon.
Lack of a consensus was a hurdle in the way of the NFC Award, however, the chief ministers of all the provinces have expressed confidence in President Musharraf who will be announcing the NFC Award along with the decision on water reservoirs.
He emphasized the need for inter-provincial harmony. He held development imbalance responsible for disharmony among provinces and said that past governments did not adopt a balanced approach.
Punjab, he pointed out, used to get 23 per cent of the Public Sector Development Program budget, but now it was getting only 8-9 per cent. Other provinces were now getting more than their share of the PSDP funds, he said.
He described the issues of the NFC Award, provincial autonomy and concurrent list as strategic in nature. "I examined these issues until 2002 and left them for the next government for a final decision as I was bogged down in economic issues and the post-9/11 scenario also diverted my attention," he said.
The President said that those talking about Katcha area becoming dry because of the dam's construction had, in fact, acquired land for Re1 an acre. He added that only 4,800 tubewells needed to be installed at a cost of Rs3 billion to meet the needs of the dry season.
He disagreed with a suggestion that his credibility had been affected due to his decision regarding the 1994 ministerial committee over water.
Gen. Musharraf said there was no opposition in the NWFP and Balochistan to water projects. He said Dera Ismail Khan, the hometown of the Leader of Opposition in National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had 850,000 acres of barren land and it would get water after the construction of a dam. Then why (Maulana Fazl) would oppose it? he asked.
Meanwhile a study report on construction of water reservoirs in Pakistan has suggested that Skardu-Katzarah dam is the best option for the country and Bhasha dam is much better than Kalabagh.
The report calls for honoring and respecting the sanctity of the 1991 Water Accord, it also calls for providing guarantees for existing water uses of the provinces in case of construction of new dams, equitable distribution of existing and future water resources and undoing ministerial decision of 1994 on sharing of water shortages.
RALLY AGAINST KBD
Rejecting the proposed project of Kalabagh dam, leaders of various political and nationalist parties have sounded a note of warning that the controversial project was detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity of the country. The opposition leaders assembled at the rally taken out in Karachi to lodge their resentment over the proposed dam, the opposition leaders accused the government of conspiring against the unity of federation by creating a rift among provinces. The government was pursuing what they called ill-advised policies that had jeopardized the country's integrity, particularly the Kalabagh dam plan and the ongoing military operation in Balochistan.
In fact, the rally was organized by the Anti-Kalabagh Dam and Greater Thal Canal Action Committee that has representation of several political and nationalist organizations.
MAJOR WATER SECTOR PROJECTS
I — Irrigation, P — Power, R — Reconnaissance, PF — Pre-feasibility Study Completed, D — Detailed Engg. Design Complete, F — Feasibility Study Completed.