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ISLAMABAD: While brushing aside apprehensions of Sindh, Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) has approved Greater Thal Canal project phase-II to be constructed with financing from Asian Development Bank (ADB), well informed sources told Business Recorder.

On March 16, 2022, Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives informed the ECNEC headed by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin that the project was considered by the forum on December 22, 2021 wherein the project was approved in principle by the ECNEC subject to the condition that the Planning Commission shall hold a meeting with representatives of Governments of Sindh and Punjab and the final recommendation shall be submitted to ECNEC in its next meeting.

Accordingly, a series of consultative sessions/ meetings were held in the Planning Commission with concerned stakeholders. Based on the discussions made in the sessions, the following recommendations were submitted: (i) the Greater Thal Canal (GTC) draws its sanctity from Water Apportionment Accord (WAA).

Its specific share is included in the 10 daily seasonal system-wise allocations. Phase-I of GTC, including the main canal and Mankera Branch, was completed by WAPDA in 2008 through federal funding. The Government of Punjab (GoPb) since then has been seeking federal investment for phase-II of GTC, as well.

It has now been decided to construct Phase-II through a loan secured by Punjab from the Asian Development Bank; (ii) ECNEC had instructed in its meeting on February 28, 2002 that for the sake of transparency the system of telemetry would be installed. Telemetry system was commissioned through a separate project.

Greater Thal Canal: Ecnec links final approval to PC’s recommendations

This Project was executed by WAPDA but the data/ information was never fully accepted/ endorsed by other stakeholders (IRSA in general, and Provincial Irrigation Departments in particular) due to design and technical shortcomings and has for all practical purposes been abandoned; and (iii) IRSA had certified water availability for the GTC in 2002.

However, Sindh argues that water from the Indus River system is not being allocated according to para 2 of Water Apportionment Act (WAA) which contends that if water is allocated to provinces according to the principle set out in para 02 of the WAA, all projects mentioned in the WAA could be implemented. Since para 02 of the Accord is not being implemented, due to shortage of water, Sindh asserts, the construction of GTC could potentially exacerbate water shortages in Sindh.

IRSA has again, through majority vote, certified water availability for GTC in 2021. Sufficient data, made available by IRSA, suggests that enough water is available within the system, which needs to be harnessed by provinces within their shareholding.

Given the importance of water projects, the following structure was proposed for approval of Greater Thal Canal project: (i) GTC can be approved with a simultaneous institution of credible monitoring mechanism to ensure that Punjab remains within its allocated share; (ii) pending installation of telemetry, the Ministry of Water Resources, in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology and its line agency, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, must monitor the flows in the Chashma - Taunsa - Guddu (including Panjnad) reach of the Indus River forthwith.

This should be done by deploying field teams that could include third party until such time that the telemetry instrumentation is in place, fully commissioned and tested. IRSA should bear the cost of this monitoring mechanism; (iii) the monitoring system of the Chashma - Taunsa - Guddu (including Panjnad) reach of the Indus River must be in place before the physical construction phase of project commences.

Ministry of Water Resources would, through Planning Commission, notify ECNEC regarding compliance of this direction; (iv) Ministry of Water Resources should lead development of a computer (numerical) model of the Chashma - Taunsa - Guddu (including Panjnad) with IRSA and PCRWR to improve understanding of this critical reach of the River Indus and inform about the so-called losses and gains in this reach which may be explained by the hydraulic phenomenon of attenuation; (v) IRSA be reformed, by separating of governance and management.

The Chairperson/ Members should be governing forum, while professional technical staff constituted the management. Members to be recruited through open transparent and merit-based recruitment from respective provinces. Earlier, report of a Committee chaired by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission on Telemetry System was submitted to the Federal Cabinet.

Ministry of Water Resources should present quarterly updates regarding implementation of Telemetry and reforms of IRSA to the CCI; (vi) Council of Common Interests (CCI) be requested to consider, at the earliest opportunity, the issue of the operational rules developed and adopted by IRSA (the 3-Tier Rule and others) in the context of the Water Apportionment Accord.

Clear directions/ rulings are required to resolve the matter pending before the Council. This may require dedicated session of CCI, with adequate time, to hear representations not only from all the provinces and the federal capital but also receive expert opinion from allied provincial/ federal institutions, individuals from academia, practitioners, civil society, etc.

During discussion, Member ECNEC from Sindh, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro observed that the water from Indus River System was not being distributed according to para 02 of WAA. As Sindh is a lower riparian province; therefore it was apprehended that the construction of GTC could potentially exacerbate water shortage in Sindh.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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Shokat Mar 28, 2022 03:34pm
Another story of Trust Deficit.
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