Canal regulators: After the deluge, 2 districts fight over decision to drain water

Desperate farmers in Tando Mohammad Khan and Badin turn on each other.

Z Ali August 19, 2011


A controversy has erupted between farmers in Badin and Tando Mohammad Khan who blame the authorities for exacerbating the flooding by refusing them permission to open a canal’s gate to drain water from their side. They claim this decision helped Badin district even though this area had already received the lion’s share of rainwater and was drowning.

There are three key canal gate regulators involved in the flooding of Tando Mohammad Khan (TMK). First comes the Timu Jalalani in TMK. Next, is the vital Dubi regulator that falls on the border of Badin and TMK and finally comes the Golarchi regulator in Badin. The regulators are small blue gates that line the Kotri Barrage’s Phuleli canal. The first two regulators have water up to their capacity of 11.8 feet, sandwiching TMK in several feet of water.

The Golarchi regulator, however, has water up to 7.3 feet. Theoretically, if a little of TMK’s water - a few carefully measured feet - had been drained into Badin via the Dubi regulator, the crops that have now been completely destroyed because they were submerged for a few days, could have been saved. This is what the people of TMK hoped to achieve by having the gates opened, but they were stopped by orders given by higher-ups.

Police constable, Salim Mallah, who mans the picket at the regulator, claims that he received instructions from Zulfiqar Mirza on August 10 not to allow the gates to open. National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, who belongs to Badin, acknowledged this. “Had they been opened, the whole of Golarchi (Shaheed Fazil Rahu tehsil) would have suffered,” she told The Express Tribune.

Torrential monsoon rains, helped on by neglected irrigation and drainage systems, have flooded the six districts that form the agricultural core of Sindh. This would be the time of the year for crops to receive a healthy dose of rain, while their owners pampered them. Now, however, peasants wade their way through the acres of water that used to be fields, scavenging fodder for their livestock - their only remaining source of subsistence.

Cotton, rice paddy, chilli, tomato, sugarcane and other vegetable crops have suffered colossal losses. “The irrigation department has drowned us,” wails the wrinkled Muhammad Yousuf Noondani, head of Noondani village in Tando Muhammad Khan’s Tando Ghulam Hyder tehsil.

Spluttering indignantly, Noondani blames an irrigation canal which used to water his crops. “Water from the Gooni canal swamped our fields and the level of water has still not subsided.”

Gooni branches off from Kotri Barrage’s Phuleli canal in the Tando Muhammad Khan district and has a capacity to discharge over 2,000 cusecs. Noondani’s village is located between two of the canal’s regulator points at Timu Jalalani and Dubi. They are approximately 16 kilometres apart.

Residents claim that the area on either side of this 16 km stretch - two union councils of Allahyar Turk and Moya with a population 55,000 - are under water. “The rainwater from the fields would have subsided in a couple of days had the gates of these regulators been opened,” contends Haji Rasool Bux Chandio, MPA Muhammad Nawaz Chandio’s elder brother and head of the Chandio tribe in lower Sindh.

The blame game that has erupted spares no one. Like Noonandi, Chandio holds the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida) responsible for the devastation while Muhammad Hasim Abro, a grower from Abdullah Abro village, accuses provincial minister Zulfiqar Mirza for forcing the closure of the Dubi regulator gates.

“It’s a political issue,” says Abro, accusingly. “Mirza wants to settle some scores with MPA Muhammad Nawaz Chandio, who also belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party.”

Abro claims that, a few days ago, a group of people tried to force the irrigation staff at the Dubi regulator to open the gates to protect their villages, but were stopped by the authorities. “They failed as someone called the police. The man, Wahid Bux Chandio, who was leading them, was charged with the crime and a police picket has been set up to keep an eye on the regulator.”

Wahid Bux Chandio, however, was saved when Federal Minister Syed Navid Qamar intervened and helped quash the case.

“SDO Ibrahim Shoro registered a non-cognisable complaint against me with the Paryo Gohar police station but the federal minister saved me,” Chandio told The Express Tribune.

Meanwhile, Ismail Rahu, the son of renowned political figure Shaheed Fazil Rahu - an icon from Badin during the 1980s Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against Ziaul Haq’s regime - complained of the mismanagement of the canals. “It’s a pity that politics is affecting the Dubi regulator in this time of disaster,” he remarked.

Habib Ursani, the director of the Left Bank Canal Area Water Board, under whose jurisdiction the Gooni Canal falls, claimed to know nothing about the issue. “I will get back to you after speaking to the executive engineer,” he assured.

Either way, the water remains, and the farmers suffer. Lakho Kohli, a worker at a farm in Haji Sobho Chandio village, is eager to see the water go down. “Although we don’t hope to gain anything from the crops, we need dry wood to burn and fodder for the livestock.” Neither of which is easy to come by these days.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.