The two-month long sporadic protests and long marches of the farmers, belonging to the tail reaches of the Kotri barrage's irrigation network, finally drew Sindh chief minister (CM) Qaim Ali Shah to their hometowns.
But the CM's visit to Badin and Umerkot districts on Tuesday to assuage the farmers, bristling over the continuous shortage of irrigation water, apparently failed to yield any results.
"There is abundant water in the system," Shah told them, referring to the Kotri barrage, canals and distributaries. "But official mismanagement is resulting in this acute shortfall in the tail-end areas," he said, while speaking to the farmers in both the districts. "The Rangers will take control of those areas where scarcity and water theft complaints keep emerging."
Shah also acknowledged that the agricultural belt under question is rich in cash crops, such as rice, cotton and sugarcane, among others. The shortage, he added, has affected and reduced the cultivation. According to the June estimates of the Sindh Abadgar Board, a body which lobbies for the farmers' interests, rice seed worth around Rs4 billion have been lost as the lands where the seed was sown could not get water. The cost of other inputs and labour as well as the expected earnings from the fields, if the crops would have been cultivated and harvested, amount to billions of rupees.
Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Hasnain Mirza told the CM at the Badin hearing that his district received irrigation water for its Kharif crop two months late and it was not properly managed. "This and last year, a large number of farmers have been forced to suffer due to the manufactured water shortage."
Others blamed the corrupt officials of the irrigation department. "The seed on thousands of acres were lost due to the corruption of irrigation officials, water theft and mismanagement in the supply," claimed Khalil Bhurgari, the former chairperson of the Left Bank Canal Area Water Board, which controls two of the three canals off-taking from the Kotri Barrage. "Shah sahib has promised us that the Rangers will be deployed and the issue would be resolved within three days," he added.
Bhurgari and other growers' representatives surrounded the stage where the CM was sitting as the Sindh irrigation secretary, Babur Effendi, was called to speak. The growers shouted slogans of 'liar, liar' to prevent him from getting on stage. The uproar made the CM leave the venue immediately.
According to the Sindh Abadgar Board vice-president Maj (retd) Umer Farooq, the growers at the head are taking 30 to 40 per cent more water than their allotted share thereby depriving the tail-end areas of their share.
The water board's Nara Canal director, Ghulam Mustafa Ujjar, admitted at a briefing in Naukot town that they have failed to curb water theft by influential people in the head reaches. The admission made the CM order action against the landlords stealing water.
During the last leg of his visit in Umerkot, the CM directed Mirpurkhas commissioner to set up his camp office in the Kunri town of Umerkot to monitor the water supply management. "I want to warn the irrigation officials, the elected representatives and the police to control the theft and improve the management," he said. "The failure to do so will bring indiscriminate government action against you."
Shah also suspended an executive engineer and an engineer and ordered the police arrest them and lodge an FIR against them. But the two officers escaped from the venue. He also said the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida) was formed to streamline the irrigation system but Sida has failed to fulfil its objective.
Water at tail-end is 3 months late
The water for paddy crops is usually released across the district in April. This year, the growers of thousands of acres of agriculture land are worrying as there is no water even by July. Those who rely solely on Kotri Barrage are, therefore, stressed.
One of the active growers of Badin, Haji Nawaz Memon, popularly known as Mama Nawaz, told the CM how the irrigation department needs to use force. “To provide water to the tail-enders without [using] force is not possible,” he told The Express Tribune. “There is tampering and over-sizing of water distributaries, which should be monitored.”
The discharge of Phuleli Canal is around 14,500 cusecs but, according to Mama Nawaz, it is currently discharging 18,500 cusecs. “Water is available in the system,” he said.
“Water is available in the system but is not being distributed due to incompetency and mismanagement,” claimed another grower, Muhammad Hasham Dal. “I don’t think we’ll have water in three days. We hope and pray for natural showers,” he added. He blamed the provincial government for the water crisis and said it is not the prime minister who stops the water at Kotri Barrage. It is the responsibility of the Sindh government, he said.
Mama Nawaz pointed out that about 25,000 acres of agriculture land will have no crop due to the unavailability of water. “About 10 growers have 100 acres and if you multiply with 25,000 acres, you’ll be shocked with the results,” he explained. It is expected that the average production per acre would not be more than 800 kilogrammes (kg) as compared to the usual 2,800 kg, the growers said.
Another grower, Shakoor Memon, claimed around 50,000 families will suffer if water is not provided within a few days. “The situation will be out of control after three months when thousands of families will be without food,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.