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THE federal government has finally approved the revised cost for the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD), an important drainage project aimed at carrying effluent from upper Sindh and Balochistan to the Arabian Sea through the Gharo creek in Thatta district.

The three phases of the project — RBOD-I, II and III — have been hit by cost overruns in the last one and a half decades for one reason or the other.

The three phases of the RBOD would now be completed at a cost of around Rs90 billion.

The first and third phases are being executed by Wapda. The second phase — executed by the Sindh government through the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) — is primarily designed to bypass Manchar Lake destroyed by wastewater.

The RBOD-II is meant to carry effluent from the RBOD-I, also known as the Main Nara Valley (MNV) drain, from Karampur village in the Sehwan area of Jamshoro to the sea.

Work on the 273km-long RBOD-II started in 2001 and it was to be completed in 2006 at a cost of Rs14bn. However, its cost was first raised to Rs29bn, and now to Rs62bn.

The execution of RBOD-II through the FWO was approved owing to the Wapda’s questionable performance in the Left Bank Outfall Drain.

Slow fund releases have largely affected progress. Meanwhile, Balochistan’s saline water component was added to the RBOD during Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s government, increasing the carrying capacity to 3,500 cusecs from the designated 2,271.

Wapda has started the procurement process for RBOD-I and RBOD-III after funds were released by the federal government last month, whereas the Sindh irrigation government has completed the prequalification of contractors for the RBOD-II.

The RBOD-I brings water from the Miro Khan pumping station in Qambar Shahdadkot district to Sehwan to fall into the RBDO-II through an Indus link built by Wapda.

In case of the RBOD-III, which starts from the Hairdin pump station in Balochistan, the wastewater (1,200 cusecs in all) is to be channelled through two different routes.

“The Manchar lake has now been completely destroyed,” said Mohammad Ali Shah, a leader of the local fishing community. “Migratory birds don’t come here now in the winter season and various fish species have vanished too.”

Even worse, the community can’t drink the lake’s poisonous water, he says. In 2004, a large number of people died in Hyderabad and Jamshoro after drinking its water.

The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the lake’s destruction, and directed federal and Sindh governments to install reverse osmosis (RO) plants.

“Our policymakers have a tendency to resolve one thing and destroy another,” Mr Shah says. “The RBOD-I effluent was emptied in Manchar to save the Indus river. Now to rehabilitate the lake, the Indus delta’s ecology is going to be destroyed with the disposal of 3,500 cusecs effluent.”

The devolution of powers to provinces in 2010 under the 18th Constitutional Amendment also complicated the matter, as the federal government wanted Sindh to share the revised cost of the RBOD-II.

However, secretary of the Sindh’s irrigation department Jamal Mustafa Syed says the federal government cannot bind the provincial government to pitch in Rs14bn as its share in the project.

The federal government has also raised the cost of the RBOD-I to Rs17.505bn from Rs14.7bn, and that of the RBOD-III to Rs10.804bn from Rs6bn. It has made it clear that no additional funding would be provided in case of a cost overrun.

The first and third phases of the RBOD are slated to be completed in November 2019 and the RBOD-II in June 2019.

However, Sindh government officials say releases from the Centre for the RBOD-II have remained slow.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 18th, 2017