ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday urged the nation to forge unanimity on the issue of construction of Kalabagh dam and asked the relevant authorities in all the four provinces to bury their “perceive differences for the prosperity and future [of our] generations”.
“The court beckons all Pakistani citizens to honour public interest and the common good, and to strive harder to work towards forging unanimity with respect to the construction of Kalabagh dam,” says a four-member bench in its detailed verdict on the public interest matter regarding construction of dams, especially Kalabagh dam.
The bench is headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and comprises by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar.
“The four brothers must bury their perceived differences and put their heads together earnestly and sincerely to ensure water security for the prosperity of Pakistan and our future generations. Let it not be said that we failed them,” adds the order.
The last hearing was conducted on July 4. Out of four, three judges belonged to Punjab.
The bench; however, expressed dismay that the executive did not take steps for the construction of Kalabagh dam in view of the Council of Common Interests’ (CCI) September16, 1991 and May 9, 1998 decisions.
The CCI in its first decision approved the construction of the multipurpose project. Likewise, the council in its second decision on May 9, 1998 re-visited the project when the Natural Water Resources Development Program (NWRDP) headed by the Ministry of Water and Power was directed to prepare for its detractors a document explaining the issues involved in the construction of Kalabagh dam and addressing political and technical concerns about it.
It was also directed that supplementary projects in support of the dam be prepared to mitigate its effect.
The court said that all the provinces should honour the agreement, adding accordingly, considerable headway in political concerns about the Kalabagh dam project was made in the 1990s by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), the highest executive forum under the Constitution for recording concurrence of the federating units of matters involving their common interest. “Nevertheless, imperceptible vested interests have managed to block progress in implementation.”
“We observe with great dismay that no progress has been made in this regard. Unfortunately, we have been apprised by various stakeholders — including Mr. Shams-ul-Mulk, ex-chairman, WAPDA, and an eminent expert and scholar in the field of water resources and power, that at present all the provinces still entertain apprehensions on this front.
“We must [re]iterate that dams, particularly those that are large in size and magnitude, are national projects to be carried out for the collective benefit of the whole nation and not for the advantage of one specific group of persons at the cost of another,” says the verdict authored by chief justice.
The court in its 24-page ruling says that despite the fact that Kalabagh dam could significantly redress water and electricity needs of the country, “there has been great resistance against its construction in the past”.
“However, there is evidence to suggest that many of the fears and misgivings held by various people are misconceived and not well-founded, being based on certain preconceived premises and presumptions.
Particularly, we find that many of the concerns raised would not in themselves be remedied by resisting the construction of Kalabagh Dam, but through strict adherence to the terms agreed upon by all the Provinces in the Water Apportionment Accord, 1991 in letter and spirit, i.e. to distribute water to the Provinces in accordance with their respective shares provided therein.”
The court says that it never realised and was surely overwhelmed by the huge public response in the form of generous donations for this national cause and the nation’s confidence reposed in and respect extended to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The trust placed by the public became manifest as their contributions were made with the clear expectation that the Supreme Court shall control disbursements of funds to ensure that these are applied judiciously and economically towards the project.
SC highlights water issues
The top court has highlighting the issues says that the first problem is the erratic flow of the western rivers. Most of the Indus waters come from the snow and ice melt from the high mountain headwaters and monsoon rains. The variation in the melting of snow and the rainfall over the various seasons leads to erratic supply of water in the rivers. This issue has intensified over the years and will continue to do so, because of climate change resulting in more extreme episodes of excess flow and shortage.
Secondly, the order says that there is an increasing gap in supply and demand for water. According to the Provisional Summary Results of the 6th Population and Housing Census-2017 conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Pakistan’s population has an annual growth rate of 2.40%. As per the Census-2017, the total population of Pakistan is 207,774,520 in 2017. However, the ‘World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, Key Findings & Advance Tables’ produced by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division in 2017 provides that such figure is expected to rise to 244,248,000 by 2030, 306,940,000 by 2050 and 351,943,000 by 2100. This increase will not only occur in rural but urban areas as well resulting in an increase in the demand for water for domestic, industrial and agricultural usage.
Thirdly, there is the phenomenon of the unsustainable use of groundwater. Due to the increase in the demand for water, the number of tube wells has also increased, be it for industrial, agricultural or domestic use. Particularly with respect to agriculture, farmers have started to pump groundwater due to the unpredictability associated with canal water supplies. As per the Report on Water Problems (Issues & Solutions) by Mr. Zafar Mahmood, Former Chairman, WAPDA (June, 2018), the contribution of groundwater to irrigated agriculture has doubled in the last 40 years, i.e. from 25.6 to 50.2 maf. Furthermore, most private groundwater exploitation remains unmonitored and unregulated. This has resulted in groundwater depletion because water is being pumped out of the ground faster than it is replenished, thereby draining our aquifers.
Fourthly, unfortunately Pakistan has a poor irrigation infrastructure. It also lacks adequate surface drainage which diverts or ensures the orderly removal of excess water from the surface of the land through constructed drains or improved natural channels, along with the requisite modelling of land. Furthermore, substantial amounts of water are wasted due to insufficient canal lining. For sake of illustration, as pointed out in Mr. Zafar Mahmood’s report, out of an average annual inflow (1976-2015) of 145 maf, 101 maf is diverted to canals out of which 40 maf is lost during conveyance resulting in an availability of only 61 maf; out of the 40 maf lost, 4 maf is due to evaporation and 36 maf is lost through percolation.
Fifthly, our soil suffers from salinization. The water diverted from the Indus River to the canal system for irrigation brings in more salts than those that flow out to the sea resulting in a net addition of salts stored in the Indus Basin. A portion of these salts accumulates in the irrigated land and its underlying aquifers. This phenomenon negatively affects the total supply of water.
The sixth is the improper disposal of waste. Many industrial and municipal estates in Pakistan lack adequate facilities for the treatment of waste. Such untreated waste, when left unmonitored, contaminates the groundwater when it seeps into the aquifers, causing various water-borne diseases.
Seventhly, there is unregulated growing of crops. The crop-growing pattern in Pakistan does not correspond to its water situation. Most of the farmers continue to grow water-intensive crops including wheat, cotton, rice, sugarcane, oilseed and banana with water requirements higher than that of other crops.
Finally, Pakistan’s coastal areas suffer from sea-water intrusion. Reduction in the inflow of the Indus Rivers due to various factors including climate change and deforestation results in the movement of sea water into fresh water aquifers contaminating them which reduces the amount of sweet groundwater available for consumption.
The court says that these issues are all pressing ones and also need to be tackled alongside the increase in water storage capacity.
The court proposed that certain steps that should be taken to address the issue of water scarcity.
The first is an improvement of infrastructure and equipment. Pakistan needs to employ methods to efficiently use its freshwater sources in order to ensure a sustainable water supply. Methods of water conservation such as zero tillage, precision land levelling, bed and furrow planting, and efficient irrigation systems including sprinkler and drop irrigation systems would go a long way in reducing water wastage. Adequate drainage systems to control salinity would help control soil salinization. Canal lining would also substantially reduce water seepage. Regulation is required in various areas. For example, the kinds of crops that are grown in Pakistan should be regulated, perhaps with a shift in focus from water-intensive crops to crops that do not require a lot of water, e.g. cool-season legumes. Dry farming can also be introduced and promoted”
Secondly, groundwater extraction for all types of use, namely, industrial, commercial and agricultural must also be regulated. Timely monitoring via metering should be adopted. However, private groundwater extraction for domestic use in the urban areas should be done away with entirely, with the municipal authorities being the only provider of water. Then there should be regulations pertaining to waste treatment. All industrial and municipal entities should be required to treat their wastewater before disposal. Recycled water can then be used for toilet flushing, industrial processes, irrigation and recharging the groundwater.
Thirdly, and importantly, water pricing for every use should be rationalised. Water should be priced to reflect the true cost of providing water for various purposes. This will encourage the more responsible use of water and have the effect of reducing water wastage and increasing water supply.
Fourthly, to encourage responsible use of water, efforts should be made to reduce its quantity that is unaccounted for. This can be done by installation of meters for the Indus River System Authority to monitor.
Fifthly, there should be active environmental upgradation. Forestation would not only help protect groundwater sources but also reduce the impact of climate change.
Sixthly, the practice of rainwater harvesting should be adopted. Rainwater should be collected from hard surfaces such as roofs and stored for on-site reuse for various purposes. In rural areas, it can be used for irrigation, whereas in urban areas, it can be used to wash cars, water gardens and even flush toilets. Rainwater harvesting would reduce the strain on the water supply.
Seventhly, there should be capacity building of the various concerned organizations including the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Pakistan, Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters, Water and Power Development Authority, Indus River System Authority, and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources. With a greater amount of cooperation and coordination between them, the problem of water shortage can be resolved more swiftly through concerted efforts.
Finally, the public should be educated in water issues and conservation techniques and methods of efficient use of water through awareness campaigns. The verses from the Holy Quran mentioned earlier in this opinion tell us to follow a balanced way of life and refrain from the excessive and extravagant use of earth’s resources, particularly water.
The court that these remedial measures are not intended to be exhaustive. It is an attempt to broadly illustrate the minimum that is expected of Government, both federal and provincial, and the relevant organizations to curb the menace of water shortage in the short and long run.
“Perhaps as a starting point the Federal and Provincial Governments should begin adopting and implementing the National Water Policy of Pakistan on an immediate basis. Together as a nation, we can bring Pakistan out of this bleak situation. Let us realise the worth of water and put first things first before it is too late.”