With both the Punjab and Sindh holding firm on their stance over the controversial opening of the Chashma-Jhelum link canal, which has led the member of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) from Sindh and the federation to ready their resignations, the prime minister has been forced to intervene. He will be attempting to pour oil over the churning waters. But even as he does so, there seems to be a realisation that the structure of Irsa may need to be altered to prevent the periodic tidal waves that erupt and threaten to cause a great deal of damage.The orders issued by the member from the Punjab, who is also acting chairman of the authority, would serve the interests of his province but damage those of Sindh by reducing flow down the Indus. To rub salt into wounds, the Punjab has now sought additional water through the canal. There is quite evidently an element of selfishness in the way water is demanded by each province, heedless of the needs of others. The battles between the Punjab and Sindh represent nothing new. But if we look at the matter realistically and dispassionately, it seems almost inevitable that this will happen. The Punjab, as the majority province, has not been known for its sensitivity to the concerns of others. And hence the current acrimony on this issue, with the smaller provinces clearly feeling discriminated against.
We need a new formula for Irsa. Possibly even a brand new body. The water sharing issue needs to be discussed and debated at some length and a set of criteria worked out on the basis of which it is awarded. A similar process took place last year when the National Finance Commission Award was made. The process took time and many rounds of talks. But in the end it proved well worth the effort as a means to achieve greater federal accord. Given that water is as precious a resource as money, a similar endeavour to sort out the disputes within Irsa needs to be made.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2010.