HYDERABAD: The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has again distributed anticipated Rabi flows on the basis of controversial three-tier formula instead of the Water Apportionment Accord, 1991, drawing ire of Sindh which has been protesting against the formula for past 18 years.

Sources in Sindh irrigation department said on Monday that Sindh’s member had boycotted Irsa meeting on Sept 30 over the authority’s plans for making water distribution for Rabi 2021-22 under the three-tier formula.

They said that Irsa had in fact finalised water flows on Sept 30 in line with the objectionable formula though it had earlier decided to hold a meeting again on Oct 5 to discuss the anticipated Rabi flows.

It prompted Sindh’s secretary of irrigation Suhail Qureshi to write to Irsa chairman that the water regulator had again overstepped its mandate under the water accord. The agenda for Irsa Advisory Committee’s meeting scheduled for Oct 5 did not include distribution of water for Rabi 2021-22 which suggested it had already been decided by Irsa without Sindh’s consent, he said.

He said that Sindh had been protesting against the three-tier formula for 18 years but Irsa had ignored it and the authority kept resurrecting the formula which had no legal standing.

He urged the federal government to take effective steps to ensure Irsa operated strictly within the scope of the water accord.

The controversial formula talks about three different scenarios for distribution of total water flows while Sindh calls for water distribution as per para-2 of the accord.

“Sindh which has 42pc share in Pakistan’s total river flows has been once again isolated by Irsa in Sept 30 meeting which decided water distribution as per three-tier formula on the basis of 4-1 vote that goes against Sindh’s interests,” said a Sindh irrigation expert.

He pointed out that Punjab had major share of water — 48.92pc — in total Pakistan’s flows (114.35 MAF) followed by two provinces Balochistan (3.38pc) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (5.05pc) which cumulatively had 8.43pc share in total flows.

The federal government had ‘zero’ share in water but its member had voting right in Irsa. “These stakeholders took the decision at the cost of Sindh’s interests, which has the second largest share,” he remarked.

Sindh had already informed Irsa that at the start of Kharif 2021 from April 1 Sindh faced shortage of about 23pc in the accord-based allocations. The shortages further increased after opening of Punjab’s canals, he said.

“From May 1 ten-daily [water] allocations in May to second ten-daily allocations of June, Sindh faced more than double the shortages than Punjab,” said the secretary.

By the end of early Kharif (June 10), the shortages faced by Sindh and Punjab stood at 35pc and 23pc, respectively. The shortages kept worsening due to back to back dip in river flows as Sindh continued to call for sharing shortages equally among all provinces. But it was not done as Irsa had exempted Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan from shortages.

Sindh’s representatives noted that figures shown for Kharif 2021 water account were incorrect as shortage in Sindh and Balochistan was shown as +2 per cent and -31pc, respectively. Actually, the share of historic usage of Balochistan was 0.85 (MAF) in Kharif while it received 1.79 (MAF), which constituted 110pc over and above its share while Sindh suffered a shortage of 15pc in Kharif 2021, he said.

In the just concluded kharif season, cultivation of rice crop has been delayed in the right bank areas of Sindh’s upper region fed by Sukkur barrage’s North Western Canal and Rice Canal because of belated arrival of water flows.

In anticipation of the delay, growers had already opted for some late sowing varieties of rice while in some areas rains had come to the rescue of farmers and helped offset impact of shortage to some degree.

Rabi season was going to start formally from November when wheat sowing would begin and actual impact of shortage would be analyzed then. But Irsa had anticipated 28pc shortage in flows for Rabi 2021-22, said the sources.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021

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