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Farmers sceptical of official claims on canal repair

December 30, 2010

HYDERABAD, Dec 29: Farmers and agriculturists have cast serious doubts over official claims that flood-ravaged irrigation infrastructure will be repaired to a great extent to ensure supply of water for Kharif crops next year.

They also voice reservations over lack of transparency in use of huge funds allocated for the rehabilitation and strengthening of the irrigation network as irrigation department officials prepare to brief President Asif Ali Zardari when the president chairs a meeting in Karachi on Thursday to apprise himself of progress on restoration of irrigation system in flood-hit areas.

Seven districts on the right bank of the Indus and one on the left bank were badly hit by catastrophic floods.

Official sources claim that 1,946 breaches out of a total of 2,515 that occurred in different waterways have been plugged at a cost of Rs1 billion. “The remaining ones will be taken care of very soon,” said one official.

He said on condition of anonymity that it was up to the government how much money it was going to release for the job. Rs1 billion were spent on plugging breaches in main canals, minors and other distributaries, he claimed.

But growers are unconvinced by the claim and they insist that the irrigation department has not even touched the damaged infrastructure of main canal in upper Sindh. Beside, their claim about supply of water for Kharif crops in lower Sindh is also questionable, they said.

Kharif and Rabi seasons start earlier in lower Sindh than upper Sindh which was completely destroyed in floods primarily on account of Aug 7 breach in Tori embankment which inundated large swathes land on the right bank and displaced thousands of people. A recent probe has rejected claims that Aug 7 and 26 breaches were man-made.

Rehabilitation of irrigation system is a gigantic task. The irrigation department which claims it has so far plugged only breaches and the work on strengthening canals and other water channels remains to be started.

Sindh Abadgar Board vice-president Gada Hussain, an upper Sindh grower, rejects official claims that breaches have been plugged. “They have only filled their pockets…,” he reacted bitterly.

If breaches were not plugged in time there would be no chances for paddy sowing, he said.

According to him 25 per cent paddy-growing area is irrigated by Rice and Dadu canals whereas 75 per cent area is supplied water by Begari Canal and North Western canal which flooded Garhi Khairo and Saifullah Magsi canals. Nothing has been done so far to repair these waterways.

A regulator on the Saifullah Magsi canal had been washed away recently by floodwater, he said.

“The irrigation officials should declare it officially whether tail end areas of all main canals will get water in Kharif season or not,” he said.

Agriculturists say that irrigation officials have still four to five months time to repair ruptured irrigation network and supply water for Kharif crops.

According to Haji Nadeem Shah, who lost standing crops of sugarcane and paddy on a large scale and 72-acre fish pond due to Kot Almo breach, work on repair of Daro branch and Kheeral minor in Thatta district is making progress.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture president Dr. Nadeem Qamar agreed with Gada Hussain and said that irrigation network is yet to be repaired.

Although funds have been released there is no transparent system for their monitoring which makes actual spending on the sites controversial, he said.

SCA general secretary Anwar Bachani expressed dissatisfaction over the repair and rehabilitation work and repeated that breaches had not been plugged in upper Sindh.

Besides, growers face a host of other issues as well like levelling and demarcating the flood-ravaged land after all identification marks had been washed away by floods, he said. If growers did not get water on time during Kharif then they would sow belatedly as had happened this year with the result that 20 per cent drop was reported in cotton production, he said.

But on the contrary, the irrigation officials, who requested not to be named, expressed confidence that 100 per cent work would be completed before start of Kharif next year.