Jan 07 - 13, 2008

Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has reportedly been asked by the caretaker government to complete phase-I of Kachhi Canal project by December 2008. The project would irrigate 713,000 acres of cultivable command area in Kachhi Plain of Balochistan. The project is being constructed in three phases. While the phase-I was to be completed by December 2008, phase-II and III of the project are likely to be completed by 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Balochistan is the largest province in the country in terms of landmass. The province has cultivable land base of 17.42 million acres. But due to the paucity of irrigation water only 5.21 million acres area is being cultivated at the moment. Kachhi canal is being constructed in Balochistan to develop irrigation and drinking water facilities for arid and water starved regions in Dera Bugti, Naseerabad and Kachhi districts. Balochistan is in dire need of irrigation water.

The project is of immense importance for the province, which is probably the worst affected by the drought and having a cultivable last base of 17 million acres. If the province's cropping intensity is increased from a dismal two per cent to 46 per cent, as planned, it would go a long way in meeting the needs of its people. Moreover, if properly managed and expanded with a view to distributing water equitably and in sufficient quantity, the scheme would help bring barren tracts under cultivation. Those who are responsible for delaying this important project must be brought to justice.

The lack of proper planning and faulty procedural codes have increased the cost of the Kachhi canal project from Rs31.2 billion to over Rs70 billion. However, at a meeting held in August 2007 to review progress of ongoing development projects in Balochistan, the former Prime Minister was told by the provincial chief secretary that Kachhi canal's phase-I would be completed in 2008. The work on both sides of the canal was continuing to ensure early completion of the project.

Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had ordered an inquiry into the implementation delays and cost overruns of the Kachhi canal in Balochistan. This inquiry had not been assigned to any individual or the forum owing to the diverging views of the Planning Commission and the Water and Power Ministry. The Prime Minister Inspection Commission (PMIC) was investigating the delays and cost overruns. Many stakeholders within the government had attributed these delays to the law and order situation in Balochistan. Undoubtedly, the security situation in the province for the last two years has been uncertain particularly in arid regions of Kohlu, Dera Bugti and Kachhi district, which come under proposed command area of Kachhi canal project. It is also true that merely law and order has not been a single important cause for the delays and cost increment, as the project was started in 2002 when the security situation in the province was not so unsatisfactory. It is the poor planning and faulty monitoring that actually put the project in doldrums.

President Pervez Musharraf had performed the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kachhi canal project at the Taunsa Barrage in October 2002. The first leg of the Kachhi Canal project comprises the construction of the canal from the Taunsa Barrage, with a flowing capacity of 6,000 cusecs. Initially, the canal would run on a half yearly basis, but after the construction of more water storages in the upper regions, the canal would flow throughout the year.

The Kachhi canal is going to be a perennial canal as 0.821 MAF unutilized share of Balochistan from Patfeeder canal project would be redirected to the project through Taunsa Barrage. The decision to make it a perennial irrigation channel was made by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) on the request of Balochistan. Provincial government wanted to use the flood supplies under the Water Apportionment Accord among the provinces in 1991, making it a viable perennial channel for the province.

Kachhi plain lies along right bank of pat feeder canal. It is included in sub tropical low lands with an arid climate and a low rainfall. The plain is drained by small but several hill torrents. It covers approximately an area of 4.94 million acres. It is one of the hottest regions in the country.

Agriculture is expected to receive power and development momentum from Kachhi canal project. Kachhi and Naseerabad are the most fertile areas of province. In the first phase, the cropping intensity will be raised to 46 percent. The second phase will equate the cropping intensity in the command area of Kachhi canal to that of Patfeeder canal. Livestock is permanently dependant upon grazing in rangelands in the province. During winter, the farmers living in central Balochistan migrate with their flocks to lower lands in Sibi and Kachhi plains for the purpose of grazing their flocks. With the green revolution the Kachhi canal is expected to bring in the area, the livestock will develop and sedentary livestock population will also increase in the command area of Kachhi canal.

Since its very beginning, the Kachhi canal project has been suffering from cost overruns and slow implementation due to poor planning and faulty monitoring problems. Initially, it was proposed that canal would be drawn from River Indus at Mithan Kot through construction of a new barrage at that point. After incorporating massive modifications in the previous Kachhi canal design, it was decided that the canal would be drawn from "Taunsa Barrage". The modified 500 km long Kachhi canal is going to be the longest canal in Pakistan. It is 250 miles longer than previously designed canal. It now stretches between Punjab and Balochistan- 300km in Punjab and 200 km in Balochistan, with 2,000 km long distributaries and minors. According to some independent experts, slow down-flow of water with reduced velocity, greater seepage and extra expenses on construction, maintenance and supervision of the canal are the new drawbacks in the modified canal project.

Kachhi canal is expected to bring prosperity and open new avenues for development in Balochistan. Approximately 0.2 million people would get jobs with construction of this reservoir in Balochistan. The project will also have significant impact on the lives of local people. It will improve the socio-economic conditions of flock-owners. This project will tap tremendous potential in production of small ruminants, sheep and goats in eastern Balochistan.