10 February 2004 Tuesday 18 Zilhaj 1424
Government's water policy
How will our posterity remember the present regime? As a government that messed up everything that it touched, restated its positions on different issues more than once and made the most U-turns in its national and international policies? Or the one that fumbled from one mishap to the other and from one crisis to the next one?
Yet another way it might be remembered is that it scratched open some painful wounds that needed to heal and wrote new chapters in repression and subjugation of the less favoured people. One case in point is its resolve to build Greater Thal Canal and some unwanted dams that are destined to destroy the agriculture and economy of a province, damage the eco system, kill the delta life and uproot and annihilate hundreds of thousands of people by taking away means of their livelihood.
The present regime may not give much consideration to the high cost of these mega projects in national and human terms. But how about their cost - and viability in financial terms?
Pakistan is already under a mountain of external and internal debts. After servicing the debts and allocating funds for the defence, we hardly have anything left for other urgent requirements. Can we afford to incur more debts to undertake the proposed mega water projects?
According to the national budget for the year 2003-2004, the federal government's total net receipts, including the net capital receipts, are estimated at Rs550 billion. The total current expenditure stands at Rs645 billion. It includes debt-servicing (Rs256 billion) and defence and other items (Rs389 billion). It means we are already in deficit of Rs95 billion before any allocation of funds for development projects and disbursement to the provinces. We have to depend on external and internal debts to pay for part of our current expenditures, undertaking any development projects and to meet other monetary needs.
If we go ahead with the construction of highly controversial mega projects that include at least four major dams and some canals, we will have to incur another external and internal debts to the tune of $30-35 billion. That will cause the debt-servicing jump by at least 50 per cent. It may require an additional amount of up to Rs128 billion or may be more. Where will the money come from to pay back that huge debt when there is no benefit in sight from these whimsical projects? Won't it cause the ultimate collapse of our economy?
What does common sense say? Doesn't it call for having another look at the government's water policy and listening to what the "other" stakeholders say? Shouldn't we also look into the available alternates that are better suited to the conditions in our country, will be more beneficial to all the people and could be undertaken at a fraction of the cost of the proposed mega water projects?
Corpus Christi, TX., USA