HYDERABAD: Sindh government has finally decided in principle not to take over the Right Bank Outfall Drain’s (RBOD) components I and III till Wapda completes work on the mega drainage system’s third and final drain, thus shrugging aside the federal body’s pressure for over a year on Sindh government to take control of the drains.

The decision was communicated by Sindh Minister for Irrigation Jam Khan Shoro to Wapda functionaries at a meeting of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Water Resources in Islamabad on Thursday.

The NA body was likely to form a committee comprising representatives of Wapda, Sindh government and a member of the NA Standing Committee on Water Resources to look into the issue after the objections raised by the minister and irrigation officers concerned.

Sindh irrigation department’s chief engineer Zarif Khero proposed that Wapda should run RBOD-I and III along with RBOD-II at least for the length of one flood season after the latter’s completion and then it should talk about handover of the complete drainage system. “Disposal of hazardous effluent into the sea is also against environmental laws that will affect biodiversity where RBOD-II outfalls,” he remarked.

The proposed handover of the drains was on the meeting’s agenda, which was chaired by Nawab Yusuf Talpur. The minister outright declined to take over the two drains on grounds that the RBOD-II was still incomplete and suffered from design flaws. In addition, RBOD-I and III had also defects in design, he said.

RBOD-I is a new name given to Main Nara Valley Drain (MNVD) and RBOD-III had been conceived to carry Balochistan’s effluent to the sea. Work on the RBOD-II was launched by Gen Pervez Musharraf government in 2001 to save Manchhar Lake from contamination being caused by the MNVD. It was to complete by January 2006 but it remained unfinished to date.

Some legal issues also arose after passage of the 18th constitutional amendment when federal government started disengaging from federally funded projects in provinces under Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

Under PSDP 2021-22, the federal government’s share was Rs54,985 million and Sindh government’s share stood at Rs7,000m for RBOD-II. “Wapda has been pursuing Sindh government to take over RBOD-I & III which stand completed but Sindh has been dithering over the issue for past one year,” said a Wapda officer.

He said that Wapda was now bearing even operation and maintenance cost of the drains.

Grounds for Sindh’s refusal

“We can’t simply take over I & III components of the RBOD as long as RBOD-II remains incomplete. So, there is no point in talking about the other two as entire length of the drain will remain incomplete even if Sindh takes over RBOD-I & III because of II,” said the minister.

“Wapda representatives objected why Sindh built RBOD-II when it wasn’t ready to run it permanently.

I told them the drain was designed and executed in Gen Musharraf’s government and not by us [PPP government],” he said.

He had reservations over RBOD-II for its design faults. “We are required to spend a sum of Rs100bn on RBOD-II. Where these funds will come from? And then RBOD-II itself has alignment faults in vulnerable reaches post Sehwan,” he argued, adding that Indus river ran parallel to the drain at certain places like Amri on Indus Highway.

He said that Wapda had completed RBOD-I and III which were comparatively easy. “The difficult component of RBOD-II has been entrusted to Sindh which touches Indus river at certain places and has the potential to undermine the river’s ecology,” he observed.

He told the meeting that present alignment of RBOD-II posed threat to Kalri-Baghar feeder which supplied freshwater to Karachi and Thatta. “Therefore, Sindh can’t take over RBOD-I and III at present unless RBOD-II is completed. And RBOD-II can’t be completed with its present alignment (faults),” he said.

Wapda’s viewpoint on RBOD-I and III

“RBOD-I and III have no design faults while RBOD-II is Sindh government’s baby,” said chief engineer (water) Sukkur, Naeem Qadir Mangi.

He told Dawn that RBOD-I was completed in 2020 and RBOD-III in 2021. “The project cost-I document [principal document of a project] clearly says that beneficiary of the project has to run it eventually which is Sindh government in this case,” he said.

He said that now the proposed committee would study the issues before taking any decision.

Earlier, Wapda’s project officials had claimed the handover process of RBOD I & III had started in 2013. A joint visit was made by Sindh and Wapda officials on Sept 30, 2013, and “works were found as per drawings/specifications and recommended for takeover by executive engineer drainage works Larkana”.

Federal Secretary for Water Resources on July 21, 2020, chaired a meeting of Wapda and irrigation officials at Karachi for arrangement of a joint visit of the project to undertake the takeover process.

Subsequently, member (water) Wapda, Lahore, requested chief secretary of Sindh on Sept 29, 2020, to direct the irrigation department to expedite the process of completed works of RBOD-I and III in public interest.

It was requested that till the project was taken over by irrigation department the expenditure to be incurred on the drains’ operation and maintenance should be provided to Wapda to avert possible damage to public assets.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2022

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