Irsa finalises water shares for Rabi amid Sindh’s protest

Published October 6, 2021
Farmers plant rice seedlings in a field in Sargodha. — APP/File
Farmers plant rice seedlings in a field in Sargodha. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid Sindh’s reservations and 28 per cent water shortage, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Tuesday decided to distribute about 27 million acre feet (MAF) of available water among the provinces under the controversial three-tier formula during the ongoing Rabi cropping season.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the water regulator’s advisory committee, presided over by Saif Anjum, Punjab’s irrigation secretary who currently holds the positions of Irsa member for the province as well as chairman, and attended by all the provincial members and representatives of irrigation departments.

Irsa unanimously estimated total river flows during Rabi 2021-22 at about 21.592MAF, besides 7.414MAF storage in the reservoirs. The meeting worked out conveyance loss at 2.044MAF and about 0.052MAF flows into the sea during annual canal closure for maintenance. Therefore, total water availability was worked out at 26.911MAF for the entire Rabi season.

Balochistan, KP exempted from shortage because of infrastructure constraints

According to informed sources, the Irsa advisory committee amicably decided to distribute water among the provinces under the three-tier formula even though it recorded Sindh’s protest. But unlike last week, Sindh’s representative did not walk out of the committee’s meeting as all other members explained that Irsa did not have any other option until the matter was settled by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) as referred to by the province.

The three-tier water distribution formula is a combination of para-2, -4 and -14(b) of the 1991 water apportionment accord to allocate provincial shares in times of shortages and allows the water regulator to be flexible at various stages of the cropping season.

Under para-2, provincial water shares are fixed on the basis of about 38MAF of water availability in Rabi at a rate of about 19MAF to Punjab, 15MAF to Sindh, 3.5MAF to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1.3MAF to Balochistan. Para-2 requires balance river supplies like floods, etc, at a rate of 37 per cent each to Punjab and Sindh, 12pc to Balochistan and 14pc to KP.

Under para-14(b) of the accord, the record of actual average system uses for the period 1977-82 form the guidelines for developing a future regulation pattern. These 10 daily uses are adjusted pro rata to correspond to the indicated seasonal allocations of different canal systems and form the basis for sharing shortages and surpluses on an all Pakistan basis.

The remaining three Irsa members — from the federal government, KP and Balochistan — and the acting chairman pointed out that the three-tier formula was finalised by the regulator in 2003 with the consensus of all provinces, and since Sindh had later referred the matter to the CCI, it should pursue the outcome at the higher level.

As such, the meeting concluded that Punjab would get 14.361MAF share during the Rabi season and Sindh 10.827MAF. This means the two provinces would face 28pc water shortage during the season when compared to their shares defined in the 1991 water apportionment accord.

Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would get 1.022MAF and 0.701MAF, respectively. The two provinces would be exempted from cuts arising out of water shortage because of their infrastructure constraints.

On the issue of Balochistan’s demand for about 1.02MAF additional water share as compensation against its share retained by Sindh during the recent Kharif season, Irsa decided that such compensation could not be allowed out of common water pool to the disadvantage of other stakeholders.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2021

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