HYDERABAD: A division bench of Sindh High Court Hyderabad circuit here on Tuesday ordered action against water theft cases in the tail-end areas of Kotri Barrage and Rohri Canal’s command systems with the assistance of police and Rangers personnel in the wake of written undertaking submitted by Sindh Irrigation Secretary Dr Saeed Magnejo during proceedings of the case.

The bench, comprising Justice Salahu­ddin Panhwar and Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry, passed the order on a petition filed by one Mir Mohammad whose lands are fed by Kotri Barrage. On the plea, the court on July 12 had issued show-cause notices to the irrigation secretary, Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida) managing director (MD), Kotri Barrage chief engineer, Left Bank Canals Area Water Board director, Kotri Barrage left bank circle superintending engineer, Guni canal division executive engineer and Golarchi sub-division Badin assistant executive engineer.

The bench heard the irrigation secretary at length. He was asked to submit a detailed mechanism under which water flows’ availability is to be ensured to the tail-end areas of Rohri Canal and Kotri Barrage command. The Sida MD and Kotri Barrage chief engineer Shafqat Wadhu briefed the bench about tail-end areas of all four canals emanating from Kotri Barrage as well as their designed discharges.

“We don’t receive any petition from those having lands upstream canals and these are always received from the tail-end areas’ growers,” Justice Panhwar observed. He referred to the orders passed at Sukkur bench in 2018 regarding water shortage issues.

He told the irrigation secretary that the irrigation department was the custodian of water flows being made available to it in the system. He said that while rice crop was grown despite a ban, the tail-end growers did not get water even for drinking. “We have seen litigants literally weeping in court while demanding irrigation water flows for their lands. Will any of your officers weep in court?” he quipped.

He wondered whether there was no other officer like Mansoor Memon of Nara Canal area water board who had addressed water shortage issue in Nara Canal’s tail-end areas which were badly hit by water shortage last year. The secretary agreed that Mr Memon had indeed worked brilliantly.

He said that was all terrorism and dacoity of water flows. He said that it was the question of survival of people.

The irrigation secretary informed the court that the issue mostly pertained to non-perennial canals which did not get any water between October-March period in line with the Water Apportionment Accord 1991. He said that old and new Phulelli canals were both non-perennial channels which got their supplies only in April.

Justice Panhwar contended that whatever flows were available needed to be distributed judiciously. He said the court could offer assistance to irrigation officials in this respect. He expressed that while upper riparian get 100pc water flows, the tail-end growers were not getting them. The judge at one point hinted at referring cases of irrigation officials with 10 years of service for verification of their assets to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) but did not pass an order.

The secretary conceded that 100pc flows were not being ensured to tail-end farmers. Justice Panhwar observed that irrigation officials had no time to read judgements passed in Zafar Ali Shah and Khadim Hussain cases.

Under court’s directives, the secretary irrigation, MD Sida, left bank canals area director and others submitted two-page undertaking through Additional Advocate General (AAG) Allah Bachayo Soomro, defining comprehensive mechanism for vigilant monitoring for proper regulation and distribution of water supply to tail-enders in the command areas of Kotri and Sukkur barrages.

According it, sub-divisional level vigi­lance committee, comprising assistant com­missioner, assistant executive engineer con­cerned, representative of the police depart­ment, for monitoring equitable distribution of water would be formed from head to tail. A committee headed by the executive engineer (XEN) concerned along with police and Rangers would launch operation against water theft.

The XEN concerned would seal illegal/tampered watercourses, remove illegal pipes, lift machines and confiscate their machines and would lodge FIR against persons found involved in theft cases.

A request for deployment of Rangers has already been made to the home department to assist irrigation staff during duty. In some areas the authorities have started operation with police and Rangers. A committee led by the deputy commissioner, Sida director/superintending engineer, the SSP concer­ned would supervise the operation against water theft.

Chairman of the Area Water Board (AWB) concerned, Sida director, superinten­ding engineer of the circle concerned would be responsible for coordination and imple­mentation of operation against water theft and other irregularities and ensure fair distribution of water.

Concerned chief engineer/Sida MD would be responsible for overall supervision and regulation/vigilance for all actions to be undertaken for control of water theft/irregularities, regulation and distribution of water under allocation supply/availability of water. The irrigation secretary would pay visits at least 10 to 15 days in a month and fix headquarter at Sukkur Barrage and Kotri Barrages three or four days a week.

In view of undertaking, the court ordered establishment of the rescue centres in every taluka falling in tail-end areas and they would be run round the clock under competent officer for surveillance.

It directed the irrigation secretary and chief secretary to ensure formation of committees in light of the abovementioned orders passed at Sukkur bench. It ordered that the Nara Canal (Mansoor Memon) director shall provide complete assistance to replicate water distribution measure applied in Nara Canals’ command in Kotri Barrage and Rohri Canal’s commands for two months.

It said that no disturbance shall be caused while implementing such mechanism by the said director and all district and sessions judges of respective areas shall assist him if required by deploying magistrates. It directed the AIGs Sukkur and Hyderabad regions to register water theft cases.

It said that Rangers would monitor situ­ation between March-July period to ensure water supply to the tail-end khatedars. A scheme should be prepared to purchase boats to handle situation during breach and during floods. The process should be completed through third-party contract under Public Private Partnership Act.

Concurring with petitioner’s view it ordered that since he got water belated flows, therefore he should be compensated. The court ordered removal of officials working on the own pay scale (OPS) basis in a month. No such officer would be appointed, it said.

It asked the Sida MD to examine cases of petitioners and redress their grievances by passing specific orders with compliance to court within three weeks. It ordered removal of encroachments over irrigation bungalows within one month and list be provided to the court about the bungalows occupied by persons other than irrigation officials.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2019