Dam confusion

Published: July 6, 2018

The murky matter of dam building just got murkier. There is no disagreement that Pakistan is years deep into a rolling water crisis. This is multi-faceted. The entire Indus river system on which Pakistan is dependent is undergoing change, not an unusual event in historical terms but not exactly predictable either. Global warming is affecting precipitation — snow and rain — over the mountains to the north of the country and water, its conservation and management, are high on the agenda. Unfortunately the agenda for decades has been dominated by disagreements about the building of large dams both for storage and power generation a consequence of which being that Pakistan is marching steadfastly towards a water-poor future.

Big dams cost billions of dollars and are slow to build. Simply, there is no quick way to build a structure such as this. Even if everything goes to plan — and it almost never does — three to five years as a minimum and more likely longer to get a major dam operational. It is thus puzzling to find the judiciary entering the fray in respect of dams, and whilst we have nothing but the greatest of respect for the judiciary who do a sterling job, it is curious to find them throwing themselves in at the deep end of the dam debate.

The Supreme Court has told the government to immediately start work on the Diamer-Basha and the Mohmand dams. The SC was hearing a petition regarding another controversial dam project — the Kalabagh — and the Chief Justice (CJ) pointed out to those present in the court, including a range of government officials, that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and everybody else were agreed on the need for the two dams, and then went on to make a surprising appeal to the general public for contributions to a fund that would be administered by the SC to help underwrite their building. The SC was acting with the best of intentions, but by no stretch of imagination is dam construction and funding under the purview of the judiciary. A rethink as to dams, judicial intervention therein, may be the wisest way forward.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2018.

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