KARACHI: Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Wednesday spoke on the issues afflicting Sindh because of persistent water shortages as the provincial assembly passed a motion asking the Sindh government to approach the Centre for judicious water distribution among all federating units.
An extensive debate was held during the Sindh Assembly session, chaired by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, on an adjournment motion moved by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Heer Soho to discuss the role of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) in distributing water among the provinces in the light of the 1991 Accord — an agreement signed by then chief minister Jam Sadiq Ali.
A number of members of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which rules Islamabad, were present in the house, but they opted not to participate in the debate.
Murad Ali Shah questions PTI lawmakers’ sincerity with Sindh
No participation from PTI in debate
Chief Minister Shah did not hide his anguish on the silence of the PTI members who sat idle while everyone else spoke and expressed their anger against Irsa’s attitude towards Sindh.
“Not a single member of a big political party took part in this debate, which reflects how sincere they are with Sindh,” said a displeased Shah. “They should have spoken here; no matter against or for our stance. But, they vanished from the scene on such an important issue for Sindh.”
He also indicated the absence of the parliamentary party leader of the PTI who spoke extensively earlier during a calling-attention notice, but preferred not to be in the house today.
Mr Shah gave a detailed background about the water woes of Sindh, which, according to him originally begin in 1859. He said it was not just the Indus, but Sindh would get water from five other rivers as well.
He said the colonial rulers rejected the Greater Thal Canal scheme twice; yet, it was constructed during a dictator’s regime.
Despite British rulers’ actions against Sindh, he added, they chalked out and enforced an agreement after the construction of the Sukkur Barrage in which Sindh’s share was 48.74 million acre feet, which was still greater than Punjab’s 48.33MAF share then.
He said everyone had technically approved that agreement. However, after Partition, India stopped water to the then western wing of Pakistan forcing the newly created state to get its water by payment to India.
He said no expert was taken from Sindh and all of them belonged to the neighbouring province when Pakistan signed the Indus Basin Water Treaty in September 1960 and “sold” three of its rivers to India.
Too little water released downstream Kotri
“Such a treaty soon created problems; then, those at the helm decided why just Sindh take benefit from Indus and dams were constructed on the river. That was the time when problems for Sindh in getting its share of water got worse.”
He said instead of minimum 10MAF, just 2MAF water was allowed downstream Kotri this season. “Do you want to make the people of the lower riparian die of hunger and thirst?”
Mr Shah said even the 1991 Accord promised a separate share of water for Karachi, yet it was not being given.
He said Sindh was the province whose share was negligibly increased in contrast to Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the 1991 Accord. However, that share was never given to the province, he added.
He appreciated Balochistan for supporting Sindh’s case, saying he had contacted the chief ministers of Punjab and KP requesting them to help Sindh in getting justice.
Mr Shah said upon his efforts, the Council of Common Interests had formed a committee to resolve the water issue. The committee had met twice and its report was still awaited, he said.
He said Sindh was concentrating on the theme of conservation of water by lining the canals to make best use of the water available to the province.
Kalabagh dam termed a dead horse
He said there was a deficit of trust regarding the issue of the Kalabagh dam and appreciated an opposition member for highlighting conspiracies to give a new lease of life to the “dead horse” as the project was generally termed.
Ms Soho said Sindh was enduring agonising water shortages for years while the federal government was not ready to discuss the issue with the provincial government.
She accused Irsa of not making judicious distribution of water and demanded that the existing Irsa committee be dissolved and the federal nominee on the authority be taken from Sindh for being lower riparian in the new set-up.
Grand Democratic Alliance’s Nand Kumar said instead of passing resolutions and motions the government should evolve a mechanism, which can ensure that the issue gets resolved.
He said he smelled a conspiracy behind creation of water problems with Sindh by which “they try to revive the dead horse. But, I make it clear here that we’ll not allow you to construct the Kalabagh dam”.
PPP’s Aziz Narejo said shortage of water was 50 per cent at Sindh’s barrages, which multiplied miserably as water flowed downstream.
GDA’s Nusrat Sehar Abbasi said Sindh had not presented its case effectively. She echoed her colleague that conspiracies were on to revive the Kalabagh dam.
Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s Abdul Rasheed said instead of resolving such important issues, federal ministers were visiting Sindh only for engineering the provincial government’s collapse.
Mohammad Qasim of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan said: “It is not failure, but it is planned ignorance and hooliganism on the part of Irsa for not giving Sindh’s due share of water”.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Jawed Hanif said Irsa distributed what it had in the system. He said it was time to stop wastage of water and make irrigation system efficient.
PPP’s Hina Dastagir said the federal government was taking measures to open gates for the Kalabagh dam. She said Punjab had never protested on the water issue because it had always benefited from the formula. She said Sindh’s deltaic region had been destroyed immensely.
Later, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Chawla tabled a motion in the house asking the provincial government to approach the Centre for getting Irsa to fairly regulate water distribution among the provinces.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019