ISLAMABAD: The Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP), Khalid Javed Khan, has dubbed the water dispute between provinces as more political rather than legal, underscoring the need for its amicable resolution through deliberation. His views were shared at a meeting of National Assembly Standing Committee on Water Resources, presided over by Nawab Yousuf Talpur. Punjab and Sindh were also represented through their respected Ministers for Irrigation, who joined the meeting on video links.
A heated debate was witnessed between the team of the Sindh government comprising Special Secretary, Irrigation and Member Irsa, Zahid Junejo and Chairman Irsa/Member Punjab, Rao Irshad, on interpretation of different clauses of the Water Accord 1991 including the three-tier formula. Irsa members from KP and Balochistan did not speak during the meeting which continued for about three hours.
The Standing Committee had sought a briefing by the AGP on his report on water distribution.
A representative of Attorney General’s office read a letter of the AGP dated June 25, 2021, sent to Secretary Ministry of Water Resources, which was as follows: “after examining the position of all four provinces, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the issue is more political than legal and safest course is to resolve it amicably through deliberations between provinces rather on the basis of a legal opinion which, as witnessed earlier from the opinion of the former Attorney General , Anwar Mansoor Khan, could not resolve given the different positions taken by the provinces.”
The AGP therefore recommended that the matter be placed before the Council of Common Interests (CCI) for further guidance and direction. The direction is of the CCI is awaited.
Minister for Irrigation, Punjab, Mohsin Leghari, also suggested that the water dispute should be resolved through deliberations instead of mudslinging.
The Chairman Irsa gave a briefing on water distribution formula highlighting para-IV of Water Accord. He said historic average usage mechanism is comprised of available water of 102.73 MAF annually calculated in 1977 and 1982. This calculation was the basis of the 1991 Water Accord, which also gives guarantee of water to existing users. It had been decided if the water availability increased from 102.73 MAF to 114 MAF through building of reservoirs, the share of small provinces will be enhanced. He said, when Pakistan’s population was 80 million, availability of water was 102.73 MAF annually and now its 90 MAF with a population of 220 million.
He said, from April 1 to June 30, 2021, 17 per cent less water was received against anticipated shortfall of 10 per cent for Kharif. Accumulative losses for Punjab and Sindh were 15 per cent and 17 percent, respectively.
He said inflows at Tarbela were 20 per cent less than the projection, adding that overall inflows were 62 per cent less than those witnessed during previous year.
Rao Irshad said that 28 MAF water goes into the sea every year, which could have been used if dams were constructed. Water losses have also increased from 11 per cent to 21 per cent, but which are equally distributed amongst the provinces. These losses can be due to water theft.
“Pakistan’s agriculture area has not increased for the last twenty years. If dams are not constructed, we will not be secured from floods or shortage of water,” he said, adding that Pakistan is now importing wheat.
The Chairman Irsa further contended that Pakistan has suffered from its “thoughtless” approach as dams have not been constructed nor agriculture issues resolved.
“Provinces will continue to fight with each other while new dams are not constructed,” he maintained.
The Chairman Standing Committee protested at the word “thoughtless” used by Chairman Irsa, maintaining that the latter had “targeted” Sindh. He urges Chairman Irsa to retract the objectionable word, who promptly retracted it with the clarification that he did not mean it the way it was perceived by the Chairman Standing Committee.
Special Secretary Irrigation, Sindh, Aslam Ansari said that the three-tier formula is not in accordance with the Water Accord, adding that Sindh has been deprived of 5 MAF of water per annum for over the last 20 years which in dollar terms is $ 100 billion.
He said the basic objection of Sindh is that benchmarking is not on the basis of para II of the Accord rather it is being taken on the basis of historic usage. He said, 1977-1982 was the worst period for Sindh due to construction of the Tarbela dam. He said 5 MAF water of Sindh’s share has been excluded from the basic figures which implies that whatever sharing is being done is minus 5 MAF. He said, the three-tier formula is not part of Water Accord, adding that 5 MAF water has to be released for downstream Kotri and the figures presented by the Chairman Irsa were ‘twisted’ figures.
Member Irsa, Sindh, Zahid Junejo said that water being released for downstream Kotri is not included in the figures and claimed the shortage for Sindh is 22 per cent instead of 17 per cent.
Minister for Irrigation Punjab, Mohsin Leghari said that water dispute should be resolved with intellect instead of emotions. At this, the Chairman Standing Committee remarked that “it is not an issue of intellect or emotions, and asked for an opinion on Water Accord from the AGP.
The Minister for Irrigation Punjab stated that since this matter is with the CCI, it should not be discussed at the Standing Committee. His views, however, were challenged by the Chairman Standing Committee, who insisted that the Committee can discuss this issue.
Ali Nawaz Awan commented that Irsa has to distribute water in accordance with the Accord and if Sindh has any objections, it should approach CCI.
The meeting directed FBR to pay Rs. 1.916 billion deducted from the account of Naulong Dam forthwith and the Government of Balochistan and Government of Sindh should pay the outstanding dues of water charges to the Hub Dam.
The Standing Committee showed serious displeasure and declared that FBR should not deduct funds from the Public Sector Development Projects. Moreover, it was informed that Lahore High Court had already directed FBR to return this amount but FBR has taken a new position. According to FBR, now the sales tax has been imposed, so, they would adjust the amount deducted from account of the Naulong Dam against the sales tax imposed on WAPDA. On the other hand, the Ministry of Water Resources, while briefing the Standing Committee, said that since funds were once sanctioned for the Naulong Dam and same have been deducted by the WAPDA. Hence Ministry of Finance is reluctant to give more funds for this purpose.
In addition, forty years ago it was decided that the monthly expenditure for the Hub Dam would be Rs. 3 million out of which Rs. 2 million would be provided by the Sindh province and one million by the Balochistan province but both governments have paid very negligible amounts for this purpose. However, Balochistan is better in terms of making payments than Sindh. Representatives of the Balochistan government committed that the remaining dues would be paid within six months to WAPDA. No representative of the Sindh Government's water board attended the meeting. Therefore, the Standing Committee took stern notice of this and directed the Chairman and other officers of the Water Board to attend the next meeting of the Standing Committee otherwise legal action would be taken against them.
The meeting was presided over by the Chairman, Standing Committee of National Assembly on Water Resources, Nawab Muhammad Yousuf Talpur and attended by Members National Assembly; Ali Nawaz Awan, Ch. Shoukat Ali Bhatti, Muhammad Farooq Azam Malik, Ms. Naureen Farooq Ibrahim, Ms. Nuzhat Pathan, Ch. Muhammad Hamid Hameed (through a video link), Riaz-ul-Haq, Ehsan-ur-Rehman Mazari and Afreen Khan. Saleh Muhammad, Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources was also present in the meeting. The meeting was also attended by the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Chairman, IRSA, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Special Secretary, Irrigation Department, Sindh and senior civil officers of the Ministry of Water Resources FBR, Irrigation Department and WAPDA.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021