While the River Indus is returning to normal flows after passing two peaks of floodwater in August, rotation programme — rationing in supply of water in canals — continues to worry farmers in Sindh.
Growers find it puzzling that when the Indus is passing floodwater, canals are facing a rotation programme and that too at the peak time of Kharif crops.
This, they say, is mainly because of water mismanagement, heavy silting of canals and existence of large number of direct outlets on irrigation channels which authorities are unable to control.
Officials cite technical reasons — for example, closure of canals — for following a rotation programme.
The closure takes place as per normal standard operating procedure (SOPs) of irrigation system so that floodwater which brings huge silt deposits should not accumulate in canals and in barrage’s pocket area (pond where water is accumulated for release in off-taking canals).
This is called a silt bar, created in the canal’s bed mostly in its upper reaches between RD1 to RD5.
Heavy silt deposits settle at canals’ head and raise the surface level, and resultantly, the gauges show readings on higher side as if canals are drawing full supply of water as per designed capacity. In reality, water flows remain relatively low.
For instance, according to irrigation water discharges figures, Nara canal that has a designed capacity of 13,649 cusec, is drawing 16,000 cusec of water while Rohri is drawing 15,000 cusec against its designed discharge of 10,800 cusec.
“These are maximum discharges which are being recorded at these two main canals right now. But the actual quantum of flow of water is much lower. It is silt deposits that affect gauge readings”, says a Sukkur barrage official, who believes farmers are justified in their demand since they are not getting sufficient water for Kharif crops, harvest of which will begin soon.
Officials in the provincial irrigation department argue that farmers cultivate 100 per cent of their agricultural land for summer crops when they should only use certain percentage of land for summer and winter crops. Closing canals when floodwater passes through barrages is a standard procedure that farmers are accustomed to.
They assure that rotation programme is to be implemented temporarily and is a regular feature in the Punjab irrigation system.
“We implement rotation programme to ensure availability of water right up to tail-end areas,” says Chief Engineer Sukkur Barrage Left Bank, Ahmed Junaid Memon.
“Heavy silt deposits break velocity of water and it reaches tail-enders very slowly, thus the outcry (from the farmers)”, he says and adds that canals’ system is too huge and it consumes a lot of time.
Growers are unwilling to buy this story and strongly reject official claims on the ground that Sindh is getting normal floodwaters which are necessary every year for overcoming ecological imbalance in Indus delta.
According to farmers’ leaders like Mahmood Nawaz Shah, provincial irrigation officials need to admit that entire irrigation system is showing decline in upkeep of infrastructure and there is no management control at all.
He sees direct outlets on canals as main problem. A direct outlet (DO) is the connection for supply of irrigation water from main canal or distributary that is usually given to influential people like parliamentarians, politician, powerful landowners and bureaucrats following approval by chief executive of the province.
“I concur with the official argument that growers cultivate more than recommended percentage of land during summer and winter crops. But then, what are the authorities doing, why do they turn a blind eye to it?” asks Shah.
He points out that during heavy monsoon rains canals’ gauges are lowered and then farmers have no objection because rainwater caters to irrigational water needs.
For the last several months, farmers have been agitating against non-availability of water in tail-end areas like Khairpur Gamboh sub-division of Naseer division which is Rohri Canal system.
They have been staging hunger strike too against unavailability of water.
Growers like Mir Zafarullah Talpur point out that he could cultivate only 18 acres of land out of 300 acres land for chilli and cotton crops and even they are drying.
The non-provision of irrigation water has even forced a group of around 80 angry farmers to stage a protest outside apex court in Islamabad to draw the Chief Justice’s attention.
Sindh irrigation authorities are seeking the government’s permission to close canals of concerned barrages for 36 hours to flush the pocket areas, but it has not yet been granted.
This has led to fears that if flushing of canals and barrages — Sukkur and Kotri — to clear silt deposits is not done, it is likely to affect winter crops’ sowing as well.