KARACHI: Amid the worsening water crisis in the province, lawmakers in the Sindh Assembly lashed out at the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) on Wednesday and demanded to dissolve it as the authority had failed to provide equal distribution of water to provinces.
During the two-hour-long debate on an adjournment motion moved by Heer Ismail Soho of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), MPAs belonging to ruling PPP, Muttahida Qaumi Movemen-Pakistan (MQM) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) demanded implementation of the 1991 Water Accord, which guarantees the release of 10 million acre feet of water downstream from Kotri.
The dam factor
Winding up the debate, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah blamed dams for contributing to water scarcity in the province. "Sindh was the richest province in Pakistan when there was no dam on River Indus. We have no water in the system and they are insisting on building more dams," he said, adding that Sindh's agriculture production was in surplus compared to the rest of the country, but its due share of water had been controlled and diverted for other purposes.
The chief minister, who is an engineer by profession, started his speech on the water crises and role of IRSA. "This subject is very close to my heart."
Referring to the British era and the then government's plan to build the Thal Canal on River Indus, he said, "When the technical committee of British Raj informed the authorities that Thal Canal scheme will cause water crises in Sindh, they dropped the scheme. Later, a dictator built this canal to divert Sindh's water."
Sindh's legal fraternity opposes dams on Indus river
The CM suggested that water can't be saved by building dams, but it can be managed through proper planning, which is the easier way.
Quoting the Indus Water Treaty between Pakistan and India in 1960, the chief minister said that rulers had sold three eastern rivers - Beas, Ravi and Sutlej - to India, without even taking Sindh into confidence. No member from Sindh was included in the treaty. "This was the turning point in the water crisis in the country as pressure was mounted on River Indus and later dams and canal were built to divert Sindh's water. We have protested at all platforms to be given us out due share, but all in vain," he said.
He refuted the reports of 10 MAF water having been released downstream of Kotri. "Only 2 MAF was released, which is nothing."
Responding to opposition lawmakers speeches that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had also allocated funds for the feasibility of Kalabagh Dam, the chief minister said, "This is a lie. Can anyone in this House show me the budget provision allocated by any PPP government for the Kalabagh Dam."
According to the chief minister, there was a provision in the 1991 accord that Karachi would be given a certain amount of water, which was never implemented.
Heer Soho, the mover of the adjournment motion, presented facts and figures. "There is around 40 per cent shortage of water this year in Sindh. The IRSA is incompetent and only fulfills the needs of Punjab," she said. "The tail-enders have more right on water. Sindh being a tail-end province must be given its due share, otherwise it will further shaken trust between provinces and federal government," she added.
United for water
During the speeches, members from the treasury and opposition, with the exception of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf members, joined hands on the issue. Hina Dastaghir of the PPP drew the attention of the House to the mass migration of people from the Indus Delta areas, including Badin and Thatta. "The sea is eroding fertile land and settlements with each passing day. We demand the federal government to not fill Mangla Dam and release the water to downstream Kotri to protect and save the ecosystem and people living over there for centuries," she said.
Javed Hanif of MQM-P suggested the Sindh government to focus on water conservation by constructing cemented canals and water courses. "We should review our agriculture policy and introduce crops that consume less water." He, however, defended the IRSA. "There is no water is the system. What can the IRSA do?"
Mohammad Qasim of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, supporting resolution, said that Karachi will suffer if Sindh is not given its due share of water. "We are with the Sindh government on this issue and condemn the IRSA's tact to steal our water."
Meanwhile, Nand Kumar Goklani of GDA diverted the House's attention toward the unfair distribution of water in Sindh. "We are with the Sindh government on this issue, but demand it to stop exploiting political opponents by stopping their water." Announcing his parties' policy of not supporting the Kalabagh Dam, he said, "We will not accept this controversial dam come what may."
Abdul Rashid of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal called water a precious commodity. "Federal government and its ministers are focusing on derailing the Sindh government and no one heeds this sensitive issue. We don't need chicken and eggs, but demand to resolve the water issue." No PTI MPA spoke on this resolution. After discussion on the issue, the speaker adjourned the session till today [Thursday].
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2019.