The Kalri Baghar (KB) Feeder Upper lining project — an important component of the Karachi Greater Bulk Water Supply Scheme (K-IV) project — is yet to start its development after being approved in July 2023 by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).

The K-IV project itself is facing delays and is now slated for completion in 2025, contrary to the previous deadline of October of this year. Likewise, for the time being, the KB Feeder lining project appears to be in limbo, and the cost escalation of the project cannot be ruled out.

A perennial canal, the KB Feeder, supplies water to Keenjhar Lake after taking off from the right of Kotri Barrage. The lake is a vital drinking water source for the provincial capital. The lining of the 38km long canal is to be done at a cost of close to Rs40 billion on a fifty-fifty cost-sharing basis by the federal and Sindh governments. Meanwhile, the K-IV is being executed by the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) at a cost of Rs126bn.

Administrative approval for the lining project was issued in September 2023 by the federal government, requiring the Sindh irrigation department to submit a work plan “to complete the project in sync with completion of the K-IV”.

The K-IV project gets pushed back another year as the Sindh government struggles to appoint a project director to meet Ecnec conditions, among other issues

The Sindh Irrigation Department has submitted its work plan. Funds shall be released by the federal water resources ministry accordingly. In case of delayed implementation of the canal’s lining, the Sindh government shall ensure the provision of water for the K-IV for the interim period.

The most important aspect of administrative approval is that the federal government mentioned that “any increase in cost [in the KB Feeder lining project] will be borne by the Sindh government”, which refers to the cost escalation as the federal government would be under no obligation to share it. Since July 2023, the Sindh government has been unable to finalise the tendering process for the project director (PD) appointment, which has been an issue for quite some time.

In the caretaker Sindh government, the post of PD was held by the then Chief Engineer (CE) of Kotri Barrage, Haji Khan Jamali. He had been issued an embarrassing show-cause notice on the day of his retirement relating to the project’s tendering process by the then irrigation secretary, Dr Niaz Abbasi.

Dr Abbasi had cancelled national competitive bidding by the irrigation department, as he believed the process was marred by anomalies, and called for holding international competitive bidding (ICB) instead.

Mukhtiar Abro replaced Mr Jamali as acting director until a full-fledged PD was appointed through a competitive process. A steering committee, headed by the chairman of the Planning & Development Board of Sindh, was formed to hire the PD, while the ICB was scheduled for March 20.

About Rs6n and Rs3bn, respectively, have been released by the federal and Sindh governments for the lining project, which may be completed for Rs40bn by 2027

The ICB was adjourned twice, first on April 5 and now on April 19. In the meantime, Mr Abro was replaced by CE Kotri Barrage, Mir Ghulam Ali Talpur, as PD on March 29 despite Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah’s already placed summary on March 14 recommending the appointment of Zahid Junejo (a former Sindh member of Indus River System Authority) as PD of the lining project.

Other competitors besides Mr Junejo were Yasin Qureshi, Mr Jamali, and senior CE Shafqat Wadhu. Mr Jamali has since moved the issue to the Sindh High Court, pleading that Zahid Junejo has attained the age of superannuation — thus, he (Jamali) now qualifies to become PD. The matter is pending adjudication.

Sindh Chief Miniter Murad Shah reviewed progress on the K-IV and the lining project on April 6. He pressed for timely completion of the K-IV, saying he would request the federal government to release Rs30bn to Rs40bn allocated for the K-IV under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

Secretary Irrigation Zarif Khero informed the chief minister that Rs6n and Rs3bn, respectively, have been released by the federal and Sindh governments for the lining project, which will be completed for Rs40bn by 2027.

Official sources stated that the chief minister believed that a separate PD should not be hired for the project as this would save several millions of rupees of government. CM Shah said that CE Kotri Barrage may be notified as PD under the post because he has to ensure the water supply to the downstream population depends on the KB feeder during the execution of the lining.

Moreover, the chief minister wants the completion of the lining project in two years instead of three years.

One officer says CM Shah intends to discuss the matter with irrigation minister Jam Khan Shoro. If the two agree, the Planning Commission would be requested to allow the Sindh government to drop the idea of hiring a director from the market.

“If PD is not hired from the market, then it will help us [Sindh government] save around Rs600m considering the fact when a PD is hired several officers are to be engaged besides provision of required paraphernalia,” says another officer. However, he says that there is a condition of Ecnec that a PD needs to be hired from the market if a project’s cost exceeds Rs600m. Let’s see what happens,“ he adds.

With a burgeoning population, Karachi’s water needs are increasing rapidly. Karachi also regularly gets an influx of people from other parts of the country. According to irrigation officers, the lining of KB Feeder Upper is supposed to conserve 500 cusecs of water, which would be utilised for the K-IV in phase-I through the same canal. In phase II, the K-IV is supposed to get another 700 cusecs of water.

This volume of water is to be made available by conserving water by lining two other off-taking canals of Kotri barrage, namely Phulelli and Pinyari [both left bank canals].

The provision of 2,400 cusecs of water was agreed upon by the federal government at the time of the Water Apportionment Accord 1991, the document that forms the basis for interprovincial water distribution. Sindh is providing 1,200 cusecs of water to Karachi through KB Feeder — 680 cusecs over and above 520 cusecs as the provincial share of Sindh for the metropolitan city under the 1991 accord.

Karachi needs 2,400 cusecs of water. Sindh has been relentlessly arguing with the federal government that such a quantum of water should be made available for the metropolis out of the ‘national pool’. This matter remains pending in the Council of Common Interests.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 15th, 2024

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