Acting IRSA chief faces the axe

A decision in principle has been taken to remove acting chairman of Irsa Shafqat Mehmood on the issue of water-sharing.


Hafeez Tunio/gm Jamali July 13, 2010

KARACHI: A decision in principle has been taken to remove acting chairman of Irsa Shafqat Mehmood for “creating hatred among provinces” on the sensitive issue of water-sharing. However, the premier will discuss the matter with the President during a scheduled meeting for the appointment of a new chairperson of the authority.

Sindh Minister Sassui Palijo may also have to face the music for her outburst at a provincial cabinet meeting held on Monday at the CM House with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the chair.

Sources said the premier had advised Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and other key provincial ministers in separate meetings to present their point of view strongly in Tuesday’s meeting, so that a decision could be taken.

According to the officials, the prime minister also indirectly said that the acting chairman had made a mistake and played a role in creating bad blood among the provinces on the touchy issue of water, therefore, strict action will be taken against him.

Sources close to the PM also informed the responsible functionaries of the Sindh government that the acting chairman Irsa has also held a meeting with Bashir Dahar, the representative of the federation in Irsa, at his home on the advice of Prime Minister Gilani.

Officials pointed out that Punjab and Sindh needed additional water for the paddy crop and this was precisely the reason of opening the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal.

The manner in which the decision was taken was improper as the acting Irsa chief should have tried to persuade all members to create understanding rather than taking a unilateral decision.

They said that an individual had made a mistake that should have to be rectified. Tuesday’s meeting will try to resolve the problem.

Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah told Prime Minister Gilani that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had invited him to have an informal meeting to try and solve the issue through detailed discussion before the official meeting of Tuesday in Islamabad.

Sources claimed that the CM and the premier had already agreed before the Sindh cabinet meeting that the water-sharing issue will be resolved by mutual understanding. However, Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo raised the issue despite being told not to, resulting in her heated debate with Water and Power Minister Raja Pervaiz Asharaf.

Annoyed by her attitude, the prime minister interrupted her and said, “If you can get this issue resolved through Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, I shall cancel Tuesday’s meeting of the four chief ministers and Irsa representatives.”

The CM expressed resentment at Palijo’s behaviour, saying the issue will be resolved through reconciliation. If not, the matter will be raised in the meeting of Council of Common Interest on July 18. However, Palijo kept on talking on the issue and said that her constituency was the most affected area by the shortage of water and therefore the matter was of great significance for her and her voters.

Replying to her, the prime minister said, “The issue has already been presented to me in a better and forceful way. We have understood the issue and called a meeting because of its importance,” adding “however, your behaviour is not appropriate”.

Pointing towards Raja Ashraf Pervaiz in a sarcastic way, Sassui Palijo said, “You are minster of Wapda. There are conspiracies being hatched against PPP through the water issue. How dare they open the canal?”

“Irsa chairman has not only violated the rules but also spoken against the people of Sindh in a derogatory manner,” Palijo persisted. “Not a single drop of water has been released downstream Kotri,” she added.

Ashraf retorted that “Palijo’s statements are mere allegations” and that water had been released downstream Kotri recently. “The federal minister seems to be a party to the Punjab government,” Palijo retaliated.

Ashraf replied that Irsa is an autonomous body that does not come under his control. “Also, I am not a court of law,” he added. However, Palijo continued exchanging sharp words with Raja despite being told by the PM and CM to stop her harangue. President Zardari had also expressed anger over the behaviour of Sassui Palijo and said that she should abstain from statements that could create hatred between the coalition parties or the provinces.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2010.

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