Irsa’s nod for powerhouse on CJ Link Canal widens Centre-Sindh gulf

Updated October 23, 2019


Given history of water disputes between upper riparian Punjab and Sindh, such an NOC has not gone well with Sindh. — Mohammad Asim/File
Given history of water disputes between upper riparian Punjab and Sindh, such an NOC has not gone well with Sindh. — Mohammad Asim/File

HYDERABAD: While controversy over nomination of a federal member in the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) from Sindh is not yet resolved by the federal government, another dispute hit Sindh after Irsa issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to Punjab to establish 25MW powerhouse on the Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) Link Canal, which Sindh fears may virtually make CJ a perennial channel.

It has given rise to acrimony between Punjab and Sindh, the lower riparian in the Indus River system, once again. Sindh’s member in Irsa Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, a retired civil servant, has given his dissenting note on the proposal that has been incorporated in the NOC issued on Oct 18.

Irsa had surprisingly first declined to issue an NOC in its Oct 9 meeting for the project in view of a 3:2 majority vote. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa member had subscribed to Sindh’s view in the meeting that the CJ was an interprovincial canal, according to the meeting’s minutes. “The Irsa chairman agreed with the contention of member Sindh,” read Oct 9 minutes.

But then a sudden change of heart was seen in the Oct 17 meeting after all provincial members disagreed with the view of Sindh’s member and Irsa issued the NOC. “God knows better what prompted the member KP and member Balochistan/Irsa chairman to change their views suddenly,” said Sindh’s member.

“CJ Link Canal is an interprovincial canal and as such it does not come under purview of Irsa,” said the NOC document. It appeared that it is a conditional NOC which said that “however, Irsa does not commit or guarantee any water releases exclusively for power generation in CJ Link Canal”.

Given history of water disputes between upper riparian Punjab and Sindh, such an NOC has not gone well with Sindh. “We believe it an attempt to convert CJ Link Canal into a perennial canal to enable Punjab [to] draw water from river Indus in the garb of its share at a cost of shortage in Sindh,” said an irrigation officer who is well-versed in Sindh’s water issues.

The decision for the NOC was taken with 4:1 majority vote as member Punjab, federal member (who is chairman of the Federal Flood Commission in the absence of permanent member), member KP and Irsa chairman cast votes in favour of the NOC.

According to Mr Shah, the Irsa chairman casts his vote when there is a tie. “Since three votes went for the NOC, the chairman voted for it too. So mine’s was the only [one] against it,” said Mr Shah. Sindh’s member observed that the CJ was an interprovincial canal and an NOC from Sindh was mandatory. Secondly, he said, Irsa was not mandated to issue the NOC. “That’s why it is a defective document. The Irsa chairman has said that being water regulator, Irsa is not committing any water releases exclusively for power generation in CJ Link Canal. When water flows are not guaranteed then why the document [NOC] is issued?” wondered Mr Shah.

Legal questions

Discussing legal implications, Sindh’s former advocate general Zamir Ghumro pointed out that any law’s interpretation could not be decided through a majority vote. “It is judiciary that has to interpret law and the matter should go to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) and National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) as well,” said Mr Ghumro.

Irsa is supposed to regulate interprovincial water distribution under Irsa Act 1992 enacted in the light of Water Apportionment Accord 1991 which explained 10 daily allocations among provinces round the year. Given Water Accord 1991, Sindh has close to 50 per cent share in the overall distribution of water — 48.76MAF in Kharif and Rabi when compared with 55.94 MAF of Punjab for two seasons. KP and Balochistan have nominal shares out of the total water distribution worked out at 114.35MAF in the accord.

“How can such an NOC be issued when Sindh being major shareholder in interprovincial water distribution has serious reservations on very genuine and legal grounds?” said an irrigation officer. He added that CJ Link Canal was part of Indus replacement works executed following signing of Indus Water Treaty 1960. These works included Mangla and Tarbela dams built in the post-treaty scenario. “Punjab has constructed nine such works though [without] Sindh’s understanding,” he contended.

The 22,000 cusecs capacity CJ link, which also feeds Greater Thal Canal, gets water from the Indus to take water flows to agricultural lands which were to be fed primarily from Mangla Dam, built on Jhelum River. Punjab gets its allocated share of water from the Indus through CJ Link Canal during Kharif when Sindh needs to meet its farmers’ demands for early Kharif sowing.

Punjab does not get its share of water from Mangla which Wapda fills during April-May period. Sindh’s stance is always that the CJ link should not be opened during this period and Punjab should be provided its share from Mangla Dam so that water requirements of Sindh from Tarbela Dam — built on the Indus — for early sowing of cotton and summer crops are met. But Sindh is always given the cold shoulder.

Sindh’s worries are that if the NOC is issued for power plant, it means Punjab would be requiring water round the year and thus CJ Link Cana l would become a permanent water channel, which is why Sindh can never support such proposition. During Kharif season, Irsa mostly announces 30pc to 40pc water shortage which in case of Kotri Barrage — the last controlling point on the Indus — remains 75pc due to system losses.

And if a power plant is to be set up on CJ Link Canal, it would certainly be needing water flows and Sindh’s farmers would be justified to assume that they would not be getting water even for Rabi season for winter corps.

Abrar Kazi, who conducted research on Sindh’s water issues and wrote a book, believed that Sindh needed water when Wapda preferred filling Mangla Dam. “It is just like this that Wapda stores water, but doesn’t satiate a thirsty man. It happens every year,” he said.

Sindh is already embroiled in a controversy with the federal government over nomination of a federal member from Sindh. The federal water resource minister has refused to accommodate two members from Sindh in Irsa whereas Sindh said that in line with an executive order of Gen Pervez Musharraf that had been given legal cover in 17th Amendment the federal member was also to be appointed from Sindh.

A.G.N. Abbasi-led Technical Committee on Water Resources — formed by Gen Musharraf — had also questioned criteria of operation of link canals (Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjnad) and Mangla Dam’s filling. The report said that water was stored in Mangla during shortage periods and spilled over/wasted in periods when it is surplus. “Stored water in Mangla is not fully utilised in the subsequent Rabi season in many years. This is highly regrettable,” said an excerpt from the report.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2019