ISLAMABAD: The viability of the Rs61 billion Chashma Canal project is being debated by its Planning Commission due to serious objections of its financing and design.
The project is supposed to provide water for irrigation to the southern districts of NWFP. A new set of objections by the Technical Appraisal section of the Planning Commission will undermine the chances of commissioning of the project in the near future.
The project has already been delayed by more than five years. Its cost has risen more than a 100 per cent. The Planning Commission recommends cost-sharing on 50:50 ratio between the provincial and federal governments as “the provincial government’s share has increased under the new National Finance Commission award.”
It recommends reducing water pumping requirements and changes to the design. The commission wanted guarantees from the provincial government to meet electricity requirement of the project, which is 25,000 units per hour.
It also recommends that the provincial irrigation department be authorised to execute the project instead of WAPDA, according to official documents available with The Express Tribune.
The objective of the project is to provide 1.187 million acre feet of water for perennial irrigation of 286,140 acres of land in the southern districts of NWFP. As much as 0.72 MAF of water will be available out of the unutilised share of NWFP. The balance of 0.467 MAF would have to be provided out of the 14 per cent share of the NWFP from flood flows under the Water Accord of 1991.
The southern districts of the NWFP would be able to get 0.61 MAF water in the Kharif season and 0.57 MAF in Rabi. However, the Planning Commission has said that a certificate from the Indus River System Authority should be obtained, “as a number of upstream water spurs have been built”.
The federal government had promised to the NWFP that it would facilitate the approval of Chashma Right Bank Canal project, which had been pending with the Planning Commission since 2004. A member of the 7th National Finance Commission said the commitment was given along with many others in return for the NWFP government’s consent for the Award.
The Planning Commission’s objections have dimmed the prospects of the project. A PC official said that if all the technical objections were taken into account, the cost of the project would increase manifold. The original cost of the project was Rs25.4 billion in 2004. Owing to delays, the per acre feet cost of water has increased from Rs21,348 to Rs51,446.
The project will take at least five years to be completed from the date of approval, which will further push up the cost of the project. The Planning Commission has recommended installation of an independent power production supply system to run eight heavy pumps, which will be installed to lift water to a height of 64 feet. “Total discharge capacity of pumping units is 2,533 cusecs, which will be carried to a height of 64 feet.
The scale is unprecedented in the irrigation history of Pakistan. If one pumping unit out of eight goes out of order there will be substantial effect on the supply of water in the canal,” the PC writes in its technical report. It says that there are 45 irrigation schemes in the NWFP, but most of the time the motors/ water pumps are either not in working condition or face regular electricity supply problem.
Dr Asif Sheikh, Public Sector Development Programme specialist, said that the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) had in principle approved the project in its last meeting. Dr Asif, who is also the official spokesperson for the Planning Commission, confirmed that the CDWP had constituted a special committee under the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Ashfaq Ahmad to resolve the issues of financing and engineering design.
He said no deadline was given to the committee to find the solutions. The committee has representation from Punjab,the NWFP and the Water and Power Ministry, he added. Senator Haji Adeel Ahmed, a member of the 7th NFC from the NWFP, said that the federal government had promised during NFC deliberations that it would approve the project at the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.
“The Planning Commission is against the project,” he added. He said all technical matters were resolved during General Pervez Musharraf’s government. “I will take up the matter with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari,” he said. The Planning Commission has also pointed out that the project’s annual recurring cost is very high, which makes it unfeasible in the longer run.
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