Ambiguity in paddy cultivation ban puts lower Sindh growers in a fix

Published May 11, 2021
Ambiguity in the implementation of ban on cultivation of paddy crop in areas on left bank of Indus River has got growers in lower region of Sindh in a fix. ─ Photo courtesy Ahsan Mahmood/File
Ambiguity in the implementation of ban on cultivation of paddy crop in areas on left bank of Indus River has got growers in lower region of Sindh in a fix. ─ Photo courtesy Ahsan Mahmood/File

HYDERABAD: Ambiguity in the implementation of ban on cultivation of paddy crop in areas on left bank of Indus River has got growers in lower region of Sindh in a fix as the ban, which was always meant only for Sukkur and Guddu barrage’s left bank canals, has been extended to Kotri Barrage this year.

Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah announced the ban in March which is enforced every year under the West Pakistan Rice (Restriction on Cultivation) Ordinance, 1959, to stop cultivation of paddy crop in left bank areas of Indus.

What makes this year’s ban special is the fact that in past it was usually restricted to Sukkur and Guddu barrage’s left bank canals and Kotri Barrage was always exempted from it but now all left bank canals of all three barrages, inclusive of perennial and non-perennial, have been put under the blanket ban — although the very ban is openly violated by influential growers.

The chief minister included Kotri Barrage in the ban over heightened concerns that paddy cultivation was causing waterlogging in the areas adjacent to paddy fields.

According to growers of Badin, paddy nurseries are being prepared in command area of left bank perennial canal Akram Wah (lined channel) of Kotri Barrage particularly in Badin district for 120 days and the crop is being transplanted as well.

But paddy producers of the command area of non-perennial New Phuleli Canal face another kind of dilemma. They are not getting water even for drinking and for their livestock due to acute water shortage.

“While we face rotation in New Phuleli and bear with drinking water shortage even for humans and animals, Akram Wah is provided water through New Phuleli to meet its requirement,” said Abdullah Chandio, a leader of Laar Bachayo Tehreek, Badin.

He claimed that paddy nurseries — located right from downstream Alipur regulator (Matli) up to Tando Bago — were ready. “But flows are diverted from New Phuleli canal to Akram Wah to leave us high and dry,” he said.

He said that landowners who depended on New Phuleli or Pinyari canal could not grow any other crop except paddy. “What else can we grow in six months? We are growing paddy for as long as one can remember. The ban, if at all, is to be enforced in Akram Wah’s command area which is a perennial canal. Our water [New Phuleli’s] is being unjustifiably provided to Akram Wah, which has a command area of 0.487m acres,” he said.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture’s Nabi Bux Sathio questioned the blanket ban which he said was incomprehensible as the area’s economy depended on rice crop. Paddy was being cultivated in the area for a long time and nobody had objected to it, he said.

He said that land in Thatta, Badin and Tando Mohammad Khan suited paddy as it would be hit by salinity if rice was not grown because groundwater was brackish in the area and paddy cultivation helped control salinity.

He said that the area had seen unusual growth in rice mills over the years due to paddy cultivation. “Around 150 mills out of Sindh’s 285 are set up in last five years in Tando Mohammad Khan. How can farmers switch over to another crop within a year? Even if they don’t grow paddy their land will get waterlogged when nearby Akram Wah starts having optimum flows from the barrage,” he argued.

Several branches and distributaries emanate from New Phuleli and Akram Wah feeds Tando Mohammad Khan, Hyderabad and Badin districts. Pinyari canal irrigates land in Thatta district. The areas have witnessed growth in rice mills, for paddy remains a widely grown crop for a long time.

Similarly, Thatta is irrigated by Kotri Barrage’s non-perennial Pinyari (old Phuleli) canal where growers have prepared land to sow paddy once flows are available. Growers are confident this canal doesn’t fall within the ban’s purview and will be eventually exempted like New Phuleli. This canal has 833,651 acres of command area.

“We have prepared land for paddy sowing and are now awaiting water flows that are not being supplied due to shortage. With non-perennial canal feeding lands paddy sowing is the only option. I cultivated paddy on 200 acres last year,” said Sindh Abadgar Board leader Nadeem Shah, who grows paddy in Pinyari canal’s command area in Thatta.

He said that he spoke to agriculture minister also and was told that there was ambiguity about the ban.

The notification, meanwhile, for such blanket ban remained a mystery even after two months, leaving growers in a quandary. “Let me check whether such notification has been issued,” said Hyderabad Commissioner Abbas Baloch.

He recalled Sindh CM had directed all divisional commissioners at a virtual meeting to enforce the ban in their areas and such directives were then conveyed to DCs concerned. “The notification is not with me,” said Badin DC Agha Shahnawaz.

Ghulam Ali Talpur, director of Left Bank Canals Area Water Board of Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA), on the other hand defended supplies of flows for Akram Wah from New Phuleli canal despite growers’ reservations. SIDA controls the two canals while Talpur faces litigation in high court over his appointment as director of the board.

“As long as notification [for the ban] is not issued I think there is no harm if someone is growing paddy in the command area of Akram Wah which is a perennial canal. Yes, we are supplying water to Akram Wah from New Phuleli. There is a design fault in Akram Wah as it doesn’t carry water,” he said.

He said that growers in Phuleli’s command area would go for belated sowing of paddy as they always did. “It’s not surprising either,” he remarked and added that if there was any individual complaint it could be looked into.

But Khuda Dino Shah, a paddy grower in New Phuleli canal’s area, rejected outright his argument. “When Akram Wah gets its flows from the barrage why our share of water is to be diverted to it? It’s an irony that we face rotation in canal while Akram Wah gets water from the same canal. Why don’t the two canals get their water share from the barrage?” he asked.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2021

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