LAHORE: Punjab and Sindh have agreed to jointly measure water discharges and let each other conduct surprise visits to barrages for checking inflows and outflows — a measure that can help address one of the biggest sources of provincial discord, i.e. perceived misreporting.

According to sources, the breakthrough came during a technical committee meeting of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on March 31. During the meeting, both provinces agreed to open up their water ways to mutual inspection and surprise visits to verify each other’s data.

Should it happen smoothly, it would be “the biggest step forward after a water according in the early 1990s”, said an official of the Punjab irrigation department.

“In fact, Punjab has long been arguing for such a reciprocal arrangement to bring transparency in water governance in the country and save the federation from water frictions,” said the official, who did not want to be named because minutes of the meeting have not been issued formally.

“If Sindh agrees to it now, nothing would be better than that. Punjab would be the happiest participant in such a plan. But agreeing to the proposal is one thing and making it actually happen is quite another. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

Mohsin Leghari, a former irrigation minister for Punjab, also hoped that an agreement between the two provinces would bring transparency to water distribution — a highly emotive and divisive national issue.

“It’s going to be a huge relief for everyone, and Irsa, Punjab and Sindh must be credited for it,” Mr Leghari said.

The irrigation department official said provinces also agreed to let each other’s officials, who were temporarily deputed at different barrages, continue their work. “Punjab irrigation officials were put at Guddu and Kotri barrages to monitor discharges and Sindh officials have been overseeing Taunsa and Panjnad barrages. Both federating units have agreed to let them continue.”

He said it had been a beneficial exercise for Irsa, as reports submitted by these officials helped reduce water losses by half at both barrages. On the basis of these reports, Irsa was able to close Rabi season, as predicted, at 26 per cent losses, which otherwise might have crossed the 30pc mark.

Irsa wanted to continue with the exercise, to which provinces agreed. These three steps — joint monitoring, allowing surprise visits and letting officials continue working — should bring a paradigm shift in water governance and bring it closer to reality, the official said.

The technical committee has also agreed to fix 28pc water shortages in the Indus arm and 10pc for the Jhelum arm for the early Kharif season.

Sindh, like last year, wanted to fix Indus arm losses at 40pc. But Punjab opposed it and was ready to allow only 10pc losses. A consensus was found by averaging out losses for the last 20 years, thus arriving at 28pc losses for the early Kharif season.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2022

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