KARACHI: Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo informed the Sindh Assembly on Tuesday that Punjab was illegally pumping water out of the Indus River and the issue had been taken up with the relevant authorities a number of times.
Between Taunsa (the last barrage on the Indus in Punjab) and Guddu (the first barrage on the Indus in Sindh), water was being pumped out, said Mr Dharejo while responding to a question asked by lawmaker Arif Jatoi of the National People’s Party during the question hour.
He said that the Sindh government had taken up the issue with the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) many times. However, he added, Sindh received its share of water as the amount was measured at canal heads.
Presided over by Speaker Nisar Khuhro, the session, which was related to the irrigation department, began an hour and 25 minutes behind the scheduled time of 10am.
When Mr Jatoi asked if it was allowed in Sindh also to pump out water from the river as was being done in Punjab, the minister replied in the negative. He said: “It was an illegal act and the Sindh government would not allow this activity.”
In reply to a related question asked by Muttahida Quami Movement lawmaker Heer Soho, he said that unfortunately the telemetry system, which was the most effective system to measure water flows, was not operational.
When Pakistan People’s Party legislator Humaira Alwani asked about the continuous flow of water in the Chashma-Jhelum link canal, he said that the canal was to become operational only during rains or floods to handle excess water. He added that the issue had always been taken up with Irsa whenever it was opened out of season.
Responding to another question asked by Ms Soho, Mr Dharejo said that all those working on deputation in the irrigation department had been sent back to their parent departments.
The minister said that over 171 departmental officers of BPS 17 were working in their own pay scale against higher grade posts in the department, whereas there were 49 and 20 officials working in BPS 18 and BPS 19 in their own pay scale against higher grade posts, respectively. He explained that lower grade officials could not be promoted because departmental promotion committees had not met for a long time. The lower grade officials had been posted against higher grade posts, he said, insisting that seniority was being maintained.
Mr Dharejo, however, did not answer a question asked by PPP lawmaker Farheen Mughal. She wanted to know why the department’s available officials of these grades (BPS 18 and BPS 19) had not been posted on the posts.
Regarding the diversion of Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) water to Thar, the minister said that a feasibility study was being done on the diversion of LBOD water to Thar near Badin only during the rains when diluted LBOD water would be sent there through Dhora Puran Dhand etc so that they could act as delay action dams and recharge the subsoil aquifer. Inhabitants of Badin would also be protected from the fury of floods, he said, adding that efforts were under way to clear encroachments from natural drains for safe drainage of excess rainwater and floodwaters.
He said there were some design flaws in both the LBOD and the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD), which were also being looked into. Till then the LBOD would continue to drain in the Shakoor Dhand near Badin close to the border with India, he added.
Responding to a question of Mr Jatoi who said Rohri canal was drawing more water than its designed capacity, the minister said that Rohri canal was designed to handle 10,887 cusecs but it was drawing 16,500 cusecs during the current Abkalani / Kharif season. It was 66 per cent above its designed capacity, he said, explaining that the main reason for the increased discharge was the construction of new bypass regulators catering to the increased cultivation demand.
When Marvi Rashdi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional asked if there was a threat to the canal running above its capacity, Mr Dharejo replied that there was no threat as such yet it was better to take all precautions.
In reply to another query, he said that direct outlets from the canal were banned. He added that the chief minister had the power to allow it on a case-to-case basis.
Responding to the question, asked by Mr Jatoi, as to why a majority of government tubewells remained non-operational, he said that out of 6,055 tubewells of the Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP), only 1,844 (over 30 per cent) were non-operational while the rest 4,211 were operational.
Another lawmaker wanted to know what was being done to check frequent power shutdowns and voltage fluctuations, which often caused damage to transformers and motors of tubewells, the minister said that besides provision of about 15 generators, the government was looking into other options such as use of alternative energy. Tubewells could be converted to solar energy, he said, adding that the power company was also being approached to ensure uninterrupted power supply.
He did not agree with the legislators who said that solar panels were an expensive option. He explained that it was a one-time investment that allowed freedom from monthly power bills and interruption in the power supply. In the long run, the solar system was less expensive, he remarked.