Dec 3 - 9, 2012

The Kalabagh issue continues to simmer, despite the formal announcement of the dam's abandonment and the construction of a dam at an alternative site upstream of Tarbela at Daimer-Bhasha. In a recent move comes from Lahore High Court (LHC), Chief Justice (CJ) directed the federal government to construct highly controversial Kalabagh Dam. The LHC Chief Justice, under Article 154(7), said that it was the constitutional obligation of the government to enforce the decision of the Council of Common Interest (CCI) about construction of Kalabagh Dam(KBD).

"In the circumstances and for detailed reasons to follow, the federal government is directed that in the performance of its duty under Article 154 of the Constitution, it shall in letter and in spirit take steps to implement the decisions of the CCI dated 16.09.1991 and 09.05.1998 regarding Kalabagh Dam".

The CJ further added that bona fide steps by the federal government in the foregoing behalf were necessary so that the fate of the project was not sealed on the basis of presumptions and surmises when in the light of the material on record the project was admittedly feasible both technically and economically.

Ironically, Kalabagh dam enjoys support in the capital of Punjab which is the only unit in the federation backing its construction. For some, the proposal has been a dream for many decades now. For just as long, the 'smaller provinces' have opposed the construction of the dam, their opposition intensifying even at the mere hint of attempts to force the project through. Here question arise that why insist on Kalabagh dam? Why provinces oppose it, and if CCI gave green signals for its construction than why are they failed to remove the concerns of small provinces?

As we know that rising from the Tibetan Plateau to an elevation of about 5,494 meters (almost 18,000 feet) above mean sea level (MSL), the Indus River discharges at Kalabagh into the Indus Plains at an elevation of 214 meters above MSL. This point is midway in the Indus River's momentous total journey of about 2,880 kilometers (km), before it throws its burden of water, sediment, and salt into the Arabian Sea. The total drop of the Indus River in Pakistan surpasses 2,000 meters. With such a drop and the enormous quantities of water flowing through it, a great potential of hydropower is created in that area.

Secondly, rough estimates indicate an economically viable and technically feasible Indus River hydro-generation capacity of 35,700 megawatts (MW) out of a potential 55,000 MW for the entire river system. The Tarbela Hydropower Station (with an installed capacity of 3,478 MW), Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Station (1,450 MW), and Chashma Hydro Station (184 MW) have all been commissioned on the Indus River. Warsak Dam, on the Kabul River (the western tributary of the Indus), and the Mangla Dam, on the Jhelum River (the eastern tributary of the Indus), are medium/major hydro-generation stations. The Malakand III Hydro Station is another medium-sized source of power. There are also a few other hydro stations in operation, which bring a total actual installed capacity of 6,444 MW in the entire Indus River system. To get the full potential of Indus River hydro-generation capacity another large hydel power is very important for Pakistan.

Thirdly, during super floods periods, as much as 100 billion cubic meters of water flow downstream of Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea. This flow is termed a waste and, thereby, demonstrates the need for a third storage dam on the Indus.

Fourthly, in Pakistan, water demand exceeds supply, leading to a crisis like situation almost every year. On an annual basis, the demand for water has led to maximum withdrawals from reservoirs, causing the Mangla and Tarbela dams to reach dead-level every single year. The fact that dams have to be taken down to dead-level is indicative of water shortage. The quantum of water flowing in the Indus and its tributaries varies widely from year to year, depending on snowfall in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges and rainfall in the catchment areas, subsequently, pinch the need of constructing another large dam for water storage purpose.

The dam is also considered justified on the grounds that existing dams are fast losing their storage capacity due to the build-up of silt deposits in their reservoirs-which has reduced water supply at a time when demand is increasing. There will be a shortfall in renewable water availability of 108 MAF by 2013.

Due to water shortage, the corresponding shortfall in food grains alone is likely to be 12 million tons. This, it is stated, will put a three-fold burden on Pakistan's meager foreign exchange resources. First, additional foreign exchange will have to be allocated for the importation of food grains. Second, a drop in the production of export commodities such as rice, cotton, and textiles will mean the loss of foreign exchange earnings.

Lastly, the scale of the emerging water shortage will adversely affect power generation and supply as well. Power shortages of over 7,500 megawatts (MW) per year have been resulting in power outages and hampering industrial and agricultural production.

Even knowing the fact that the KBD has been pleaded by WAPDA as the only possible choice for saving the food and energy starved nation of Pakistan, small provinces had its own reservations, like in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), right now the more pressing problem is displacement of a sizable number of its people, and it is estimated that a vast area of its land will either be submerged under the reservoir or rendered waterlogged. In the original design of KBD, the reservoir elevation was desired at 925-ft above MSL, at which the water level in River Kabul was feared to rise by 2.5-ft at Nowshera, immediately after construction and to the ultimate 9.5-ft after 30 years of the project implementation.

However, to account for this, and as protection against damages in these areas, WAPDA had proposed to erect 25-ft high dykes around the Kabul River, so as to protect the cities from the water's spillover. Then again, due to the high risk factor for the flooding eventuality and subsequent drainage problems, the Government of KP seriously objected the designs of the project and conducted investigations in 1985 to assess the possible impacts of KBD on the Peshawar valley. As a result, it was revealed that, at the 925-ft reservoir elevation, the following major impacts were expected to occur:

* 60000 acres of area will be affected by the 1 in 5 year floods;

* 16 number unprotected villages will be required to be acquired and their population resettled;

* Almost 70,000 persons will require resettlement elsewhere;

* Another 131000 persons will be requiring protection through 24 feet high dykes;

* A total of 28 miles long flood protection dykes will be constructed along the Kabul River, out of which 18 miles length will be specifically required to protect the Nowshera town alone;

* The dykes retained water was feared to contribute to the overall rise in water table in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir.

In addition, the following facilities were feared to be permanently submerged in the reservoir and therefore required relocation:

* 20.45 km of National Highway, 2 km Nowshera-Mardan road;

* 10 km Nizampur Attock road, 25 km Pir Sabak-Jehangira road;

* 6.92-km Railway line between Khairabad - Nowshera;

* 5.43 km railway line between Nowshera - Mardan;

* Bridge at Khushal Garh;

* Khairabad Bridge at Attock required strengthening and modifications;

* Jehangira Bridge required raising by 15 ft;

* Nowshera Railway Bridge required raising by 6-ft;

* Nowshera Mardan Bridge required raising by 6-ft;

* Telecommunication, power lines and gas lines also required relocation.

In the light of these findings, the Government of KP requested WAPDA to revise the project. Lately, WAPDA has revised the designs and reduced the reservoir elevation to 915-ft above MSL in July 1986 and declared the designs to be safe against all the evils of the previous design.

Unfortunately, the validity of WAPDA's statement of a mere 10-ft reduction in reservoir height to solve all the problems is still questionable and worth detailed investigation, the people of KP doubt the predictions of WAPDA's experts due to their previously ill-conceived designs of KBD, and hold strong apprehensions against the real objectives of the project.

They, therefore, still believe that:

* The dam will raise the water level of River Indus throughout the Attock gorge, right through the Haro river confluence and upto the Akora Khattak on Kabul River. And resultantly, the Nowshera City, inhibited by 200,000 people falling on both the left and right banks of Kabul River, will be under severe threat of flooding. And in the long term of about 50 years time, the Nowshera City and its adjoining areas will become waterlogged swamplands, due to the seepage from the raised water level.

* The Mardan and Swabi SCARP projects, covering 123,000 acres of irrigated land, will face certain threat of failure, because of their outfalls being lower than the high flood levels in KBD reservoir.

Therefore, in the absence of an independent assessment of the damages at the 915-ft reservoir level, and with no-trust in WAPDA's claims of all-well, the people of KP take the previously arrived figures of social and economic costs as an eye opener on the viability of the project. People still believe that the mere 10-ft reduction in reservoir level will have a negligible mitigating impact in taking care of the colossal injury to KP.

Equally, Sindh believe that KBD left bank canal will divert the waters of Indus to Rasul-Qadirabad sector in the upper reaches of Punjab, and the whole of River Indus waters will be left to cater to the needs of Punjab only, whenever there is shortage of water in Jehlum, or in the eventuality of India appropriating all the waters of Jehlum, or Chenab or both. Sindh, which is a lower riparian of River Indus, has constantly felt threatened by Punjab and has bitterly disputed the figures of water availability advanced by WAPDA, citing legal, economic, ecological, geomorphologic and many other reasons for opposing KBD.

From the past experience of the operation of Taunsa-Punjnad and Chashma-Jehlum canal, people in Sindh perceive that Punjab plans to allow the civil works or the canal system to be constructed as projects of national survival and run the surplus water for a few years to establish precedence and develop water users, who will then apply pressure to keep the water supply running. Later, when the water rights are well established in Punjab, they can force the lower riparian (or don't even ask) to accept the fait accompli and keep the water supply running since the tap is in the hands of the upper riparian. Therefore, Sindh strongly opposes the construction of KBD.

In the end, the largest province of Pakistan, Baluchistan, does not touch River Indus and is not a riparian in the strictest sense. Still the Pat Feeder canal from Guddu Barrage, with 3400 cusecs of water, irrigates about 300,000 acres in the province. And with a recent request of Baluchistan Government to remodel the Pat Feeder canal, the flow is further expected to be increased to 6000 cusecs, irrigating a further 200,000 acres.

Baluchistan's opposition to KBD is therefore based on its apprehension that future requests for more water from River Indus will meet little success if KBD over stretches the demand of water in Indus River system. In addition, with the revised distribution of water in the post KBD scenario, Baluchistan fears a further reduction in its share of irrigation water usage, which is already very low.

In the ground reality it is clear that KP is one of mostly affected province, but province major political parties should realize that KBD was not an issue of Punjab alone as ANP leader describe LHC's ruling as "the tone of Takht-i-Lahore", but a matter of the country's survival that was at stake due to fast depleting water resources. KP suffered the most due to a delay in the construction of KBD as even after completion of Bhasha Dam the province would continue to be deprived of additional water because it would be 50 feet below D. I. Khan where 800,000 acres of available agricultural land could not be irrigated economically. If KBD was built water would be available for vast tracts of land in KP at affordable price because the water level would be high enough to irrigate farms.

The purpose of CCI was to iron out differences, problems and irritants between the provinces and between provinces and federation. If counsel said that this project was in interest of all four provinces and objections raised against it were of technical nature, which could be removed, so counsel put its all efforts to remove the misunderstanding.

Open debate is also a best solution, media can develop an awareness campaign and identify the major crux and come out with the possible solutions with discussing it WAPDA, by taking opinion from all major political parties and CCI members. Maybe there is a hope that this would help iron out the differences between the provinces manifested in the anti-Kalabagh resolutions passed by the assemblies of Baluchistan, Sindh and the erstwhile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa some years ago.