ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dubbed fears and misgivings against the construction of the Kalabagh dam as misconceived and based on certain preconceived premises and presumptions.

Many of the concerns raised against the Kalabagh dam would be remedied through strict adherence to the terms agreed upon by all the provinces in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 in letter and spirit, says the detailed verdict issued by the Supreme Court.

The 26-page verdict, which decided the petitions and other connected cases regarding acute shortage of water and construction of dams in the country, also asks the provinces to honour the 1991 accord that sought distribution of water among the provinces as per their respective shares.

Authored by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, the verdict recalls how considerable headway in political concerns about the Kalabagh dam project had been made in the 1990s by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which is the highest executive forum under the Constitution for recording concurrence of the federating units on matters involving their common interests.

Detailed verdict asks provinces to honour 1991 water accord

Nevertheless imperceptible vested interests managed to block progress in implementation, the judgement says, recalling that the Kalabagh dam was to be built on the Indus River with a capacity of 6.1 million acres feet (MAF).

On July 4, a three-judge apex court bench had ordered opening of an account titled DIAMER BHASHA AND MOHMAND DAM FUND-2018, with a direction to the federal government, Wapda and the executive authority to take effective measures in the light of CCI’s unanimous decisions to develop 4,500MW Bhasha dam and 700MW Mohmand dam.

The verdict holds the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams as a national cause, because they are being built for the benefit of the citizens who undeniably have a stake in it. The contribution from citizens would not only instil in them a sense of ownership and belonging, but also inculcate in the executive a sense of responsibility, accountability and obligation towards the citizens, the judgement says. This ‘pennies-from-many’ model can go a long way in contributing to this national developmental project that should, as far as possible, be completed with local resources, it adds.

To pre-empt the concerns of sceptics, the verdict also makes a reference to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is said to be the largest dam in Africa. For its construction that began in 2011, revenue was earned through different fundraisers including athletic events and lottery draws. Around 60 per cent work on GERD has already been completed while the project is expected to be ready with domestic funds only.

Drawing on this example, the apex court took the initiative to establish the ‘Supreme Court of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund’ in which people from all walks of life were encouraged to contribute showing their resolve to this project.

Steps to remove water scarcity

The SC also proposes steps for addressing the issue of water scarcity like the improvement of infrastructure and equipment. Pakistan needs to employ methods to efficiently use its freshwater sources in order to ensure a sustainable water supply. Methods of water conservation such as zero tillage, precision land levelling, bed and furrow planting, and efficient irrigation systems including sprinkler and drip irrigation systems would go a long way in reducing water wastage.

The verdict says adequate drainage systems would help control salinisation, while canal lining would also substantially reduce water seepage. It says the crops grown in Pakistan should be regulated, perhaps with a shift in focus from water-intensive crops to the crops that do not require a lot of water, e.g. cool season legumes.

Not only dry farming can be introduced and promoted, extraction of groundwater for all types of use — industrial, commercial and agricultural — must also be regulated, the judgement says, adding that timely monitoring via metering should be adopted. However, it emphasises, private groundwater extraction for domestic use in urban areas should be done away with entirely, allowing the municipal authorities only to provide water.

Water pricing

According to the verdict, there should be regulations pertaining to waste treatment. All industrial and municipal entities should be required to treat their wastewater before disposal. Recycled water can then be used for toilet flushing, industrial processes, irrigation and recharging the groundwater.

Most importantly water pricing for every use should be rationalised. Water should be priced to reflect the true cost of water provision for various purposes, as this will encourage more responsible use of water and have the effect of reducing water wastage and increasing water supply, it says. To encourage responsible use of water, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) can install meters to monitor and reduce the amount of water losses, the verdict adds.

The court states that there should be active environmental upgrade. Forestation would not only help protect groundwater sources but also reduce the impact of climate change. The practice of rainwater harvesting should be adopted. Rainwater should be collected from hard surfaces such as roofs and stored for on-site reuse for various purposes. In rural areas, it can be used for irrigation, whereas in urban areas, it can be used to wash cars, water gardens and even flush toilets. Rainwater harvesting would reduce the strain on water supply, the detailed judgement says.

Capacity building, awareness

The verdict also asks for capacity building of different organisations, including the Ministry of Water Resources, Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters, Water and Power Development Authority, Irsa, and Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources. With greater amount of cooperation and coordination between them, the problem of water shortage can be resolved swiftly through concerted efforts.

Finally, it adds, the public should be educated in water issues and conservation techniques and methods of efficient use of water through awareness campaigns.

Certain practical conservation techniques include simple sustainable home living methods such as closing taps when water is not needed, avoiding the use of hose pipes to wash cars or water plants, and taking short showers instead of long baths. To this end, awareness can be inculcated immediately through print and electronic media. As a long-term measure, awareness about water conservation should be imparted at schools so as to change the mindset of future generations, the judgement says.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2018

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