ISLAMABAD: Brushing aside a decision made by former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf about two decades ago, the federal government on Wednesday refused to have two members from Sindh in the five-member Indus River System Authority (Irsa).
“The Chief Executive Order of 2000 granting Sindh the favour of nominating Federal Member in addition to the one already appointed by it was unauthorised and illegal,” said the water resources ministry in a statement, adding the “Irsa Act was not accordingly amended in the light of the Martial Law-era executive order”.
It said that Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda had taken exception to the statement by the chief minister of Sindh on the issue of nomination of one additional Irsa member exclusively from the province. “The appointment of an additional member from Sindh is not covered under the Irsa Act, 1992 as each province can nominate [just] one member,” said the statement.
The post of federal member of Irsa has been looked after on an acting charge basis since 2010 by chairman of the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) or chief engineering adviser because of Punjab’s protest against nomination of two Irsa members by the Sindh government. Between 2000 and 2010, the post of the federal member was filled on the recommendations of the Sindh government.
Some quarters within the federal government privately argue that Gen Musharraf amended the Irsa Act through an executive order in 2000 to shift the Irsa headquarters from Lahore to Islamabad and that his decision to allow Sindh to nominate someone for the post of federal member of Irsa was aimed at persuading the province to withdraw its opposition to the proposed Kalabagh dam.
Because the basic objective remained unfulfilled and the Punjab government stepped up its opposition to appointment of two Irsa members from Sindh, the PPP-led government in 2010 did not appoint a member on Sindh’s advice and instead allowed the post to be filled automatically by the FFC chairman under the Irsa Act.
A couple of months ago, the Sindh chief minister sent the names of some nominees to the prime minister for selection of a federal member of Irsa. And the prime minister’s principal secretary advised the water resources ministry to move a summary for approval in the light of Sindh’s nominations.
The ministry then sought comments from Irsa which agreed that under the 2000 decision of the chief executive, which was also upheld by Irsa, its federal member should come on the advice of Sindh.
According to the sources, the ministry also asked the law division if such an appointment was covered under the Irsa Act. The law division noted that while the executive order had not been rescinded, the Irsa Act had not been amended either.
The establishment division advised that a committee led by the water resources minister should resolve the matter and send the names of a suitable panel of nominees to the prime minister for his decision on the matter.
On Wednesday Mr Vawda said the executive order of Gen Musharraf had “already been suspended by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which had allowed the federal government to nominate its own member to Irsa to ensure neutrality and credibility of the regulatory authority”.
He said Punjab had expressed strong reservations over the appointment of two Irsa members from Sindh while no one represented the federal government/federation.
He said the prime minister had already considered the Sindh chief minister’s request and directed Mr Vawda to fill the post of federal member of Irsa strictly in line with the stipulations of Irsa Act, for which the ministry has started the process of nomination.
The minister said he was “open to lawful suggestions but not for dictation” and emphasised that “both the Irsa Act and the judgement of the Supreme Court clearly empower the federal government in this regard which will accordingly exercise its legal authority”.
He said his ministry and the Prime Minister Office would “always uphold the law and abide by the Acts of Parliament instead of resorting to political expediency”.
A day earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had alleged on the floor of Sindh Assembly that the federal government was not implementing the water accord in its true spirit, which was evident from the fact that it was not appointing Irsa member from Sindh.
The Irsa law requires that the post of Irsa chairman be held by members from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and the federal government, in that order, for a period of one year. The law also envisages that Irsa will five members, each representing one of the provinces or the federation. It also says that the FFC chairman will function as the federal member in the event the post falls vacant for any reason.
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2019