Punjab-Sindh dispute over water deepens

Published June 13, 2021
Till Sindh agrees to open its barrages for a third-party inspection, Irsa should only allow losses mentioned in the Water Apportionment Accord, demands Punjab. — INP/File
Till Sindh agrees to open its barrages for a third-party inspection, Irsa should only allow losses mentioned in the Water Apportionment Accord, demands Punjab. — INP/File

• ‘Unilateral’, ‘surprise’ inspection by federal monitors not allowed at Guddu
• Irked by Sindh refusal, Punjab asks Irsa not to accept unverified claim of losses

LAHORE/HYDERABAD: The longstanding water dispute between two major provinces, Sindh and Punjab, took another turn on Saturday when the former refused to allow federal inspectors to visit Guddu barrage to see water measurement mechanism and ascertain actual water flows and losses.

While Indus River System Authority (Irsa) secretary announced on Friday that the Tripartite Discharge Monitoring Team (TDMT) would begin discharge measurement at Guddu barrage on June 13, a team comprising Wapda officials, mandated by the federal government, went for Guddu barrage inspection on June 12 without telling anyone.

A former Wapda general manager who had been involved in the process believed any inspection after providing information to the provinces would be futile. Requesting anonymity, the ex-official said: “If you go there after informing everyone (as planned and announced), won’t it be an exercise in self-defeat? So going there unannounced makes more sense.”

Sindh had earlier challenged the role of the federal Ministry of Water Resources in the matter, explaining that it was the responsibility of Irsa to settle water disputes among the provinces. Sindh Irrigation Secretary Mohammad Saleem Raza wrote to the federal secretary for water resources on Friday that the federal ministry of water resources had “nothing to do with resolution/settling water disputes/issues within the provinces. Under the Water Accord, it is the authority of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa).” For this reason, the provincial government told the federal ministry, no official from Sindh would attend the ministry meeting scheduled for June 15.

After the letter, Sindh did not allow the federal inspectors, who had earlier visited Taunsa, to check Guddu without prior intimation. The refusal, however, touched raw nerves of the Punjab, which was quick to blame Sindh for being unwilling to be part of the solution.

Read: Water politics brings Punjab, Sindh face to face

A spokesman of the Punjab irrigation department claimed the federal ministry of water resources is part of the tripartite arrangement (involving representatives of the Punjab, Wapda on behalf of the federal ministry of water resources and Sindh) agreed upon in a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Why dispute them now? It was Sindh that first started complaining to Irsa about its share. It then took its case to the National Assembly and finally to the Prime Minister Office. At all forums, the ‘third-party monitoring’ was agreed upon. Sindh is now avoiding what it demanded and agreed upon,” the official said.

Punjab is now writing to Irsa that even before the National Assembly and PM Office, it was decided to provisionally distribute water during early Kharif and ascertain actual water losses in the meantime. The Punjab wants Irsa to allow only losses mentioned in the Water Apportionment Accord (around 10 per cent against what Sindh claims to be 39pc) if “Sindh does not want to help bring transparency” to water distribution and ascertain actual in and outflows and losses.

Till Sindh agrees to open its barrages for a third-party inspection, Irsa should only allow losses mentioned in the Water Apportionment Accord, the Punjab demands. “The cost of Sindh’s unverified claims is simply too much for anyone to allow. It was allowed 30pc for early Kharif but it has claimed 39pc. This additional nine per cent means 1.5 million acre feet, more than what the country has in store.”

The decision of flows monitoring was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 27 after Sindh had complained against the opening of Taunsa-Panjnad link canal by Punjab despite objection by Sindh member in Irsa and a clear majority decision of 3 to 1 against the move by Punjab. At the meeting, it was agreed through a tripartite arrangement a team comprising representatives of Wapda, Sindh and the Punjab would monitor the flows. Following instructions from the PM Office, Irsa asked the provinces on May 31 to nominate their members for TDMT. Punjab obliged but Sindh refused to nominate its member for monitoring of the barrages due to disagreements with Irsa over deciding standard operating procedures and evolving consensus for TDMT.

Sindh Irrigation Minister Sohail Siyal claimed that the monitoring of barrages was agreed upon at a meeting on May 24, which chaired by NA standing committee on water resources chairman Nawab Yusuf Talpur. He added that he had mentioned the May 24 decision to the PM in May 27th meeting. The minister said he had rejected the three-tier formula being applied by Irsa for water distribution among the provinces.

The Sindh irrigation department through its June 9 letter rejected Irsa’s TDMT plan on the ground that Irsa should first start a consultative process, convene meeting of stakeholders and evolve consensus for TDMT before executing the plan of flow monitoring at barrages in Sindh and Punjab.

Sindh’s another strong stance is that it doesn’t accept value of Coefficient of Discharge (Cd), a technical irrigation water measurement formula, repeatedly referred by Irsa for TDMT exercise first for June 8 and then for June 13. The value of Cd formula is being taken by Irsa from 2015 Nespak’s study that Sindh says is unacceptable to it, according to the provincial irrigation department.

Council of Common Interests

According to Sindh irrigation minister Sohail Anwar Siyal, the federal ministry for water resources has nothing to do with issues relating to water disputes between provinces. “Irsa has to deal with these matters and in case they remain unresolved, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is relevant forum,” Mr Siyal told Dawn after going through the letters of the secretaries of Irsa and federal ministry for water resources.

NA’s standing committee chairman Nawaz Yousuf Talpur said there was no harm over appointment of independent monitoring of flows at Sindh and Punjab barrages. “I have convened standing committee meeting for June 16 to discuss matter further [in backdrop of water shortages in Sindh] due to water distribution based on three-tier formula and historical uses,” he said, claiming that link canals could not be opened unless there was surplus water and that’s why he had to approach the PM in writing.

Mr Siyal wondered, “Why Irsa is avoiding consultative process as also suggested by water resources ministry and wants to thrust unilateral decision?” He said Sindh’s grievance is about non-implementation of Accord 1991. “While we press the point of non-implementation of Accord and opening of link canals like Taunsa-Panjnad despite 3-1 decision against Punjab amidst severe shortage in Sindh, Irsa looks the other way,” he said, adding that Sindh was still bearing with 42pc water shortage.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021

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