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ISLAMABAD: Sukkur Barrage and its canals which provide water to about 25 per cent of the country’s canal-irrigated areas are in danger because of development of a large delta in the centre of its storage area and resultant cropping mainly because of violation of irrigation rules.

A team of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has reported that a silt delta over an area of 60-70 acres had developed in the middle of the barrage’s storage area and at least three influential landlords, including two politicians and a police officer, had converted the delta into an island by using it for farming.

The team comprising Irsa’s members Rao Irshad Ali Khan from Punjab and Abdul Raqeeb Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and its acting secretary Khalid Idrees Rana during a visit found large quantities of harvested crop lying on the delta and saw the land being prepared for Kharif crop.

Sources said the delta appeared to have been created by violation of irrigation rules which resulted in build-up of silt deposits in the middle of the storage area, instead of being flushed out.

Irrigation manuals require operating central gates in normal circumstances to build pond level and enable canals on the side gates to draw water according to their capacity.

The side gates are normally kept closed because they are used for canal water operations. The barrage has 66 gates and the authorities open the side gates when they feel that silt deposits are building up on the banks to flush them down.

A source said that Sukkur Barrage was being operated by putting irrigation rules into reverse.

The Irsa team was surprised to find that most of the central gates were closed and only side gates were in operation, leading to creation of a huge delta in front of the central gates posing a direct threat to the main barrage which had been rehabilitated only a few years ago by the Frontier Works Organisation.

“It has become almost impossible to flush out this delta through normal irrigation operations,” said an official, adding that special studies and engineering contracts would be required to get rid of it.

Also at Tarbela Dam, because of negligence a similar delta had increased to more than nine kilometres, reducing its capacity. “We are going to face similar situation at the Sukkur Barrage.”

While the delta has reduced the capacity of Sukkur Barrage from 1.5 million cusecs to less than 1m cusecs of water, the capacity of its three canals on its right side – Northwest, Rice and Dadu – have also drastically come down.

“Therefore, the rehabilitation of Sukkur Barrage on an emergency basis has become necessary to avert a crisis,” said an Irsa source who pointed out that presence of people and irrigation in the middle of the barrage had also threatened the main structure of the barrage.

The Irsa team also noted that officials of the Sindh Irrigation Department posted at the barrage were indifferent to the formation of the delta and the farming activities on it. They told the Irsa team that the provincial government was considering to rehabilitate the barrage but no concrete action had yet been taken.

A former member of Irsa told Dawn that a small delta was inbuilt in the project design when it was constructed by the British in 1932, but because of silt deposits its size had increased several times. He said an executive engineer, Zareef Khero, who had taken action against illegal cropping and reported the matter to the provincial government, was immediately removed from Sukkur.