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EDITORIAL: The Special Investment Facilitation Council’s (SIFC’s) direction to the water resource ministry to furnish a proposal for crop-wise Abyana (water pricing) to meet operations and maintenance (O&M) of canals and irrigation systems comes when the country is running out of water and the federal government no longer has the fiscal space even for important sectors like health, education, and housing.

So, it does not have the money to ensure continuous development of water resources infrastructure in the provinces.

It’s also been reported that the four federating units would finance water projects such as dams through revenue collected on account of water pricing. That’s why SIFC has asked the water resource secretary to devise a rational irrigation water pricing mechanism after input from chief secretaries of the four provinces.

It turns out that Rs300-325 billion could be earned in revenue if a rational pricing mechanism is implemented. The money could then be utilised to maintain and upgrade respective irrigation systems and finance future national water projects such as dams.

Yet the water resource ministry had already floated just such a plan, under which provincial governments would implement a rational water pricing mechanism to upgrade their respective irrigation systems — including lining of canals to ensure provision of water to tail-end farmers – besides helping finance desperately needed dams. It even wrote to the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) to engage the World Bank for a study on water pricing mechanism in Pakistan.

Currently, the price stands at Rs80 per acre in Kharif season and Rs125 in Rabi. But Punjab and KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) governments are charging up to Rs400 per acre annually in some areas, pushing the average water price in the country to the Rs125-200 per acre range in one year.

The problem is that a task force on water calculated, way back in 2012, the cost of pumping out groundwater for one acre at $25-80. And even if the government charges the minimum, $25 or Rs7000 per acre annually, revenue from Pakistan’s 45 million acres would climb to approximately Rs300-325 billion.

Yet even though the Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved the national water policy in 2018, revenue collection never improved because provincial irrigation departments have never charged the required surface water price from big farmers.

Now, though, the financial crunch means provincial governments will no longer be able to offer blanket protection to politically connected big farmers. Already the federal government has disengaged from funding provincial development projects, leaving the units to cough up the money on their own.

Water conservation is crucial not just because of financial constraints, but also because Pakistan has become the world’s one of the most water scarce countries over the last two decades.

And unless the waste, mismanagement and corruption are sorted out immediately, the agri sector and revenue collection could be delivered a fatal blow, leaving it to the people to make up for crippling financial shortfalls.

The people got a welcome hint of the fruits of corrective action when authorities recently cracked down on illegal dollar smuggling and hoarding, suddenly reversing a precipitous fall in the rupee even as the dollar was making historic highs in the international market.

That showed that the right thing could be done but was never done because of paralysis, and most likely collusion, at the very top.

It is now clear that such action is needed across the board. The big fish that have been eating of the fat of the land, like big farmers that don’t pay the designated surface water price, need to be confronted and put in their place.

They’ve long compromised the integrity of the official machinery, but if they’re left unchecked any longer, they will undo the very foundation of the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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PT Nov 04, 2023 11:11am
federal government no longer has the fiscal space even for important sectors like health, education, and housing.... When 60% is taken up by a single entity what else is left for poor masses?
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KU Nov 04, 2023 12:17pm
If only BR could give details of canals and their length in miles, that supposedly will be lined to save water, the ridiculous nature of the idea would be exposed. Besides, pricing water for crop irrigation will only add to the financial difficulties of farmers and will not stop the wastage of water. The people behind this idea are an ideal example and living experiential lesson of how not to involve incompetent personnel in important matters.
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