IS KALABAGH DAM PROJECT SHELVED?

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)

Apr 06 - 12, 2009

Is Kalabagh dam project really shelved? Or, was it postponed for a while to create consensus among the disagreeing provinces what was a buzz in the single staunch supporter province Punjab of the KBD project when the project was reverberated to have been shelved by this government last year? It is toilsome difficult to collect answers of these questions since even proponents including political activists and government officials of the government's decision did not speak up their versions of disfavouring KBD, either terming it a mere dead project or 'highly sensitive matter to talk about'. It leaves one to ponder over what kind of sensitivity is keeping them mum, and that is so at the time when the federation itself acted to wind up the project to appease low riparian Sindh, a prime source PPP government draws power from. "I am not in a position to comment on KBD project," regretted a senior official in Sindh Irrigation and Power department. However, he said there were technical problems in the project. Despite visit twice of this scribe to the department, nobody seemed willing to comment in detail on KBD project except dubbing it 'highly sensitive issue'.

Kalabagh dam elicited conspicuous protests from Sindh that is located at receiving end of the Indus river flow and the construction of KBD was renounced several a times due to political differences. The project was proposed to be constructed at a site near Mianwali district of Punjab bordering NWFP. "KBD project is a strategic decision of Punjab and to boil down provincial disharmony temporarily the project has been swept under the carpet," posited Zulfiqar Halepota, secretary Sindh Democratic Forum-a think tank of writers, political activists and agriculture scientists.

He told this scribe PPP government might be serious in removing KBD project from the list of mega dams' construction, but establishment is hell-bent on constructing Kalabagh dam, "which is favourable to six districts of Punjab". According to a news report, Southern Punjab would be the major beneficiary of water supply from KBD. Last year, Federal Minster for Water and Power, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said reportedly that KBD project was postponed and not shelved. While trying to mop up concerns of low riparian province about impact over water discharge after construction of water reservoirs on Indus, former President Musharaf assured that no canal would be constructed from KBD and that it would only carry water during flood, but he was unable to win over antagonists who wanted legal validation of the assurance. Even now, they are paranoid of canals and tributaries carrying water only during flood.

"Constant drain of Sindh share of water through Chashma Jehlum and Taunsa Panjnad link canals have put promises into doubt," said Halepota. "The scepticism developed because of violation of 1991 water accord that determines provincial water share. If the accord is implemented in letter and spirit, then we are not against construction of dams on Indus river system," he stressed. On water sharing, Punjab and Sindh have been at odds for long.

Lack of release of freshwater downstream to tail end causes sea intrusion that according to an estimate has caused salinity in 2.5 million acres agriculture lands in Sindh. Low water flow is expanding salinity-affected lands and undermining mangroves, which are sanctuary and springboard of fish and variety of commercial species. Besides, it is affecting livelihood of people in the surrounding areas. It is mandatory to release 10 million acres feet (MAF) to push ahead sea intrusion while IUCN makes 27MAF essential to save ecology of Indus delta.

Punjab agriculturists believe that KBD construction would retard Indian plans of dams' construction on Indus. India was encouraged to start spadework because of discharge of fresh water into the sea. Farmers Association of Pakistan reportedly said that 35MAF is going into sea every year. "If this happens, riverbed downstream Kotri should not give a deserted look," argued Halepota. Actually, technical committee on water resources commissioned in the last government and headed by NG Abbassi stroke out possibility of large dams on Indus river system because of uncertain water availability in the system, he maintained. The river flow depends largely on rainfalls and glaciers meltability. "Dams are constructed on assured availability of water rather than on unwanted water or water, that is released occasionally."

Sindhi nationalists have categorically demanded shelving of not just Kalabagh but also Diamer-Basha, Akori, and Kuram Tungi dams. "Construction of Basha dam is ok," commented a senior official in Sindh Irrigation and Power department. With 8.1 MAF gross storage capacity and 4500 MW installed electricity generation capacity, Diamer Basha dam is to be built on Indus River about 300 km upstream of Tarbela dam and about 40 km downstream of Chilas town, according to Wapda. A news report published in a national daily quoted PML-N official as saying Kalabagh dam would generate almost 3600 MW electricity and irrigate large agriculture tracts.

"To meet power crisis, construction of dams be it Kalabagh or any other is necessary," says former president KCCI Majyd Aziz. He believed Wapda and Ministry of Irrigation and Power did not take up the issue of Kalabagh dam rightly. A conciliatory approach is required. "They mishandled the issue," he opined. "Affirmative," uttered a senior activist of a political party. In fact, there was a dearth of confidence building measures. Originally, bitter experiences regarding fresh water discharge downstream and drought-like conditions in districts of Thatta and Badin draw always impulse resentment of Sindh over proposal of KBD construction, he told this scribe requesting anonymity. Marginalization of the people of the province begot sense of distrusts. Had the people not been deprived previously of their due rights, persuasion could have been easy, he commented. He said, according to International Water Distribution Law, without permission of tail ender no mega reservoirs can be constructed on its water current. Comprising water experts, irrigation engineers, agriculturists from all federating units, a technical committee should be tasked to resolve the issue of KBD. On the same line, a parliamentary committee should also be formulated to restore the confidence of provinces in questions.