Plunder of irrigation water

Published September 28, 2015
Illegal pipes and outlets at the Saifullah Canal in upper Sindh.—Photo by writer
Illegal pipes and outlets at the Saifullah Canal in upper Sindh.—Photo by writer

THE tampering of watercourse modules in the command area of each and every canal in Sindh is a ‘rampant’ business spurred by new modes of water theft.

Exerting political pressure or bribing irrigation officials, influential landlords tamper with the modules to increase water flows to their lands for as many days as they want. And no official from the irrigation department visits the farms to stop this malpractice.

There are many illegal but daring ways of tempering the flow of minors downstream to the watercourses of landed gentry. One is to construct dips in the bed of the minors to halt the flow downstream. These dips are often built in connivance with irrigation department officials. Such dips are created beneath the normal bridges on the minors, as these cannot be easily noticed.

Another way is to throw heavy stones in the minor beds to obstruct the flow downstream so as to easily divert a good chunk of irrigation water towards the big landholdings. Worst still, the helpless irrigation department is unable to fix these tempered modules and remove the dips and obstructions.

The farmlords use heavy motors to draw more water for irrigation of their lands from the watercourses. They usually dig a pond at a distance of 100 feet from the module and fix a motor at that pond. The motor sucks water from the pond, accelerating the water flow from the module to the watercourse.


Some of the landowners are so powerful that they fix their motors directly at the minor and draw water from there, in addition to that from their watercourse modules


Through these measures, these the big farmers use more water than their due share and deprive the other growers, especially those at the tail-end, from their just share. Some of the landowners are so powerful that they fix their motors directly at the minor and draw water from there, in addition to that from their watercourse modules.

Similarly, the sanctioning of watercourses is theoretically a technical and legal matter determined by ground realities and the availability of land and water etc. However, it is being done on political considerations. Those with political clout can get watercourses sanctioned even if the required land (or even water) to be cultivated through that watercourse is not available.

This results in the overall shortage of irrigation water for many and is a bone of contention among water users.

A number of minors now have watercourses beyond their irrigation water-carrying capacity. Many extra watercourses have been sanctioned from minors with already scarce water resources.

Last but not least is the theft of water through illegal pipes. For instance, there are over 100 unauthorised pipes in the Northwest Canal (NWC) and the Khirthar Canal from RD zero to RD116 Khanpur. These unauthorised pipes supply about 300 cusecs of water, which reduces irrigation water at the Garang Regulator.

As Balochistan is provided its due water share even in case of shortages, the farmers in the command area of the Saifullah Canal are the victims of this kind of water theft. During field visits, Indus River System Authority (Irsa) officials found 71 illegal water outlets from the Sukkur Barrage’s Northwest Canal in 2013.

Similarly, according to an irrigation department report, there are over 60 illegal modules or pipes operating on the Dadu Canal that are stealing 2,880 cusecs of water every day at the cost of tail-end growers.

In Badin district, there are 16 illegal direct outlets in the Naseer Canal, which flows out of the Rohri Canal from the Sukkur Barrage. Consequently, farmers say 66,000 acres of land has turned barren, their livelihoods have been affected, and over 80,000 people are without adequate drinking water.

Interestingly, in some cases, these illegal outlets were authorised by political leadership during different governments.

The Saifullah Canal was constructed during the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the Sindh-Balochistan border to provide more irrigation water to the northern and western borderlands of Sindh. During the construction of the canal, a small strip of Sindh land was left on the Balochistan side only to ensure that Balochistan should not claim any right on the waters of the canal.

However, later on, the same strip of land became a key cause for the illegal diversion of water towards Balochistan through pipes.

Initially, a narrow pipe of only half an inch in diameter was sanctioned in 1988 during the first Benazir Bhutto government to provide drinking water to the people living on the narrow strip of land. However, at present, there are more than 10 illegal pipes of large diameters installed from the Garang Regulator to Chuki to draw water for lands in Balochistan.

Even in case of low intensity, the water goes gushing into the pipes from the Saifullah Canal to cultivate crops in Balochistan. This has become a booming business. Small-diameter pipes sanctioned on political bases have been changed with bigger pipes. And no one seems to have the courage to remove these pipes with such big diameters that a man can easily pass through them.

What should be done in such situations? Irrigation department officials say they have no magisterial powers to check such illegal practices. And the police is also not supportive.

According to officials, when they request the police to conduct raids against water thieves, it demands money to purchase petrol for its vehicles.

And even after receiving the money, the policemen inform the influential people in advance about the raid. The landowners then remove all signs of illegal activity before the police party reaches the spot along with the irrigation department officials.

The key issue seems to be political influence. This has to be brought to an end to stop the illegal activities and ensure the provision of irrigation water to all the farmers on an equitable basis.

sikanderbrohi2@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, September 28th, 2015

On a mobile phone? Get the Dawn Mobile App: Apple Store | Google Play

Opinion

The risk of escalation

The risk of escalation

The silence of the US and some other Western countries over the raid on the Iranian consulate has only provided impunity to the Zionist state.

Editorial

Saudi FM’s visit
Updated 17 Apr, 2024

Saudi FM’s visit

The government of Shehbaz Sharif will have to manage a delicate balancing act with Pakistan’s traditional Saudi allies and its Iranian neighbours.
Dharna inquiry
17 Apr, 2024

Dharna inquiry

THE Supreme Court-sanctioned inquiry into the infamous Faizabad dharna of 2017 has turned out to be a damp squib. A...
Future energy
17 Apr, 2024

Future energy

PRIME MINISTER Shehbaz Sharif’s recent directive to the energy sector to curtail Pakistan’s staggering $27bn oil...
Tough talks
Updated 16 Apr, 2024

Tough talks

The key to unlocking fresh IMF funds lies in convincing the lender that Pakistan is now ready to undertake real reforms.
Caught unawares
Updated 16 Apr, 2024

Caught unawares

The government must prioritise the upgrading of infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.
Going off track
16 Apr, 2024

Going off track

LIKE many other state-owned enterprises in the country, Pakistan Railways is unable to deliver, while haemorrhaging...