Land, water and laws

Even today, the villagers do not have safe water to drink


Dr Pervez Tahir November 26, 2021
The writer is a senior political economist

PPP’s Sindh is an unhesitant acceptor of all things progressive. This is the party line handed down by its creator, ZAB, followed by a large number of enlightened faces in its councils. But the real power structure takes over in implementation. It is not just a laid-back bureaucracy, but the well-known feudal-bureaucratic nexus that resists till the noise reaches Bilawal to act as Chairman in one of his unguarded moments.

Among many others, village Gul Muhammad Lund of UC Bedhmi near the zero point in Taluka Badin is waiting for that moment. Its residents remember ZAB who made women of the village owners of land by allotting them three acres each. That was in the 1970s. The asset ownership made no difference to their marginal existence. Even today, the villagers do not have safe water to drink. There is no school and the out of school children are cent per cent. Nor is there any heath facility, public or private.

So what good was the access to land? Owning land without the right to water means nothing. The village is situated in the coastal belt at the tail end of the dreaded Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) that has drained public funds more than the water. Badly conceived by the World Bank and poorly maintained first by WAPDA and now the Sindh government, the LBOD brings the unadulterated dirt and waste to the village and the sea. It leads to the intrusion of the sea onto the lands of the poor. During floods, the drainage from the upper districts spells disaster for the tail end due to breaches and overtopping of the drain. They wish there never were an LBOD!

In Sindh, 77% of farming is done by women. Much more in village Gul Muhammad where women dominate ownership as well. Appropriately, the Sindh Women Agriculture Act was promulgated in 2019, but without making the resultant improvement required in the Sindh Tenancy Act of 1953. A civil society organisation, Strengthening Participatory Organisations (SPO), mobilised women in village Gul Muhammad and other villages around the right to water. The community debates led to the finding that water distribution, drainage removal and flood management would become more inclusive if women’s representation in water management bodies was ensured. These include Farmer Associations, Water Allocation Committees and Area Water Boards. To improve the legislation enacted in 2002, the Sindh Water Management (Amendment) Act was drafted in 2018. A private bill, it took three years to pass in January this year. Then its implementation was being delayed due to the procrastination in the process of rules formulation. SPO, after drafting the amendments in the original ordinance for the legislators, also drafted the rules for the convenience of the bureaucracy of Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA).

Finally, the approval was accorded in August. Even after notification of the rules, the status quo will change only in the jurisdiction of SIDA, which is limited to the three main canals of lower Sindh. When the jurisdiction is extended to the entire province, and the law is implemented in letter and spirit, agriculture’s dynamic is likely to change significantly. The experience of the Sindh Rural Support Organisation shows that empowering women at the household level delivers much better outcomes.

Similarly, the results of a study by Mustafa Nangraj presented at an SPO seminar showed that 60% of women were excluded from decisions about crop farming. This empowerment, together with the participation in the decision-making foras of irrigation water could make a material difference to lives and livelihoods.

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