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KARACHI: The treasury and opposition benches in the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday engaged in a heated debate over the availability of water as some of them feared the worsening situation could lead to “water riots”.

Also read: Why there is a shortage of irrigation water in Sindh

The debate on the annual budget presented by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah for the next financial year entered its third day with Speaker Siraj Durrani in the chair.

Some 11 members, six of them belonging to the opposition benches, spoke on the merits and demerits of the financial plan put together by the government.

Lawmaker suggests speeding up work on desalination plant to address water woes

As the day’s session resumed two hours later than its scheduled time, the number of members in attendance was pathetically poor, which annoyed the opposition benches. They complained to the chair that no ministers and senior bureaucrats were there to listen to them and jot down their suggestions.

Speaker Durrani pacified them and got them to end their protest by saying all speeches in the house were duly being noted down and would be taken care of by the government.

The members spoke over various issues Sindh was facing, however, everyone offered views on the problems pertaining to water.

The treasury benches generally complained about the federal government’s “iniquitous” behaviour towards Sindh, a lower riparian province, vis-a-vis share in water, while the opposition members were discontented with the system that “failed” to effectively supply the available water.

“Water mafias continue to steal our water and sell it to us and they are being patronised by the persons from among us,” said Irum Farooque of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement who has left the party and assumes independent standing in the house.

She said work on the desalination plant in the metropolis should be accelerated and completed in the soonest possible time.

“We are lucky to have the sea beside our city and other districts of Sindh and this project could help us a great deal in meeting our drinking water needs.”

She feared “water riots” could break out if the issue was not resolved and the federal authorities did not ensure just share to Sindh and its effective supply to farms and houses. She said Sindh was facing more than 70 per cent water shortage warranting the provincial authorities to go for building “our own reservoirs”.

“We should not solely depend on Punjab, there are other ways too to ease the pain.”

She was unhappy over the “dead” Manchhar Lake, which lately forced 700 families of fishermen to migrate.

She asked the federal government why the Green Line bus project it funded had hit delays, which had made the lives of people miserable and also exacerbated the city’s transport woes.

She asked the provincial government to rely on its own resources more instead of looking for help from Islamabad.

She added there was no mention of the Karachi Circular Railway project in the budget documents.

She said abolishing the quota system was necessary to end widespread suspicions among communities.

Awais Shah of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party blamed the federal authorities for continued sea intrusion because no water was flowing to deltaic regions of the River Indus.

He said water was not available for both irrigation and drinking purposes because of heavy shortfall caused by the federal authorities.

He said the worst water shortfalls Sindh had ever suffered had forced the provincial government to protest against the federal authorities in Hyderabad.

He asked the opposition benches to join the Sindh government for the cause of Sindh.

“The federation does not supply us adequate water, power and gas. We demand nothing, but at least give us the right to live by allowing water coming our way.”

He said sea intrusion had consumed a whole taluka in the southernmost part of Sindh; the level of subsoil water had gone “miles deep” and all this was “part of a pre-planned scheme”.

He criticised Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for “remembering” Sindh after five years when general elections were close. He also slated ex-premier Nawaz Sharif for “speaking against the army”.

PML-N’s Sorath Thebo confronted him with her mike off asking him to focus on the budget discussion.

He said all schemes in Sukkur initiated by the PPP government were progressing as per schedule and denied the claims about delays made earlier by some opposition members.

Shaharyar Maher of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional said the government’s claim that tube-wells were being shifted to solar energy was nowhere in sight.

He said the irrigation system was as flawed as before while Sindh’s agriculture, which contributed 35pc of the national crops, was not being adequately taken care of.

He claimed the Benazir Income Support Programme had turned poor people into beggars.

MQM’s Rana Ansar said 44pc of children in Hyderabad were out of school while a good number of schools in the district were closed or abandoned.

She said none of the 12 colleges promised by the government to be established in Hyderabad was built. Besides, four libraries in Shahdadpur were closed down. She said billions of rupees spent on education had given zero result.

She said schemes and equipment of healthcare facilities had been transferred to other districts by the government.

Ms Ansar said there were 17 animals in Ranibagh and all of them were goats showing the zoo had been turned into a stable.

PPP’s Shehnaz Ansari said only those schools which had been established by the previous government to use as autaqs had been closed. She appreciated the government’s scheme to open English-medium schools in 15 districts.

MQM’s Bilqees Mukhtar, who has defected to Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), said lawmakers should have been consulted before preparing the annual budget.

She said Sindh had immense resources, yet, there was no planning and good governance.

Mohammad Dilawar of the MQM, who has also defected to the PSP, said the government should effectively utilise the water which was available to the province. He said the figures vis-a-vis requirement of water to Sindh were flawed.

He said slashing 8.5 million people of Karachi in the census had, in fact, harmed Sindh.

PPP’s Mahesh Malani said the government’s policies had positively impacted the life of Thar. He said healthcare system had been “revolutionised”.

PPP’s Saira Shahliani said the budget had focused on development sector.

Adviser to the chief minister on social welfare said quota system was meant to help the marginalised, which should continue until the whole population came at par in terms of living standards.

MQM’s Shaikh Abdullah, who has defected to the PSP, said continuous delays in Green Line project had created hardships for the people of Surjani Town.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2018