Prevailing drought and water shortages in Sindh is bound to leave inerasable marks on Sindh’s economy and its people. With WAPDA and IRSA (Indus River System Authority) announcing that Tarbela dam has reached its critically low levels and there will be no release of any water from it for irrigational use from March to May 2001, Sindh ominously faces another year of decreased agricultural production, primarily because of non-availability of irrigation water to standing crops, especially wheat and delayed sowing of cash crops, especially cotton. In Sindh, the cotton sowing starts in March and is completed by the end of April. During this period, only 10,000 cusecs of drinking water will be released in the Indus River. After deducting mandatory drinking water-supply for Karachi and wastages, only 8,000 cusecs will be left at canal-heads and most of this will perish en route to remote villages of Sindh and hardly a few thousands cusecs will be available at distal ends of water distributaries, sufficient only for drinking purpose. Since the cotton is cash crop of Sindhi farmer as well as backbone of Sindh’s agro-based economy it is anybody’s guess to think of impending economic disaster.
It was approximately 40 percent less supply of the irrigation water during last year’s Rabi (wheat) season, which resulted in decreased wheat production in Sindh due to decrease in its crop intensity. During the same season, Punjab was able to bring at least 2 percent more area under wheat cultivation. Resultantly, Sindh had to procure wheat from elsewhere. In spite of availability of cheaper and better quality wheat from neighboring India, Sindh was forced to buy it from Punjab at the price dictated by it. Although Sindh required only 700,000 tones, its was forcibly sold one million tones at price which was Rs 1063 per ton higher than the usual price. Rs 8.25 billion were deducted from Sindh’s account at source by the federal government before delivery of a single grain at the very outset of financial year 2000-2001. When Sindh started receiving wheat from Punjab, its substantial quantity was found to be substandard and inedible. This year, during the Rabi season, the irrigation water deficiency has been to the tune of 60 percent and the scenario is likely to be repeated rather more ruthlessly.
Due to non-supply of irrigation water in the command areas of Kotri barrage, southern Sindh, i.e. district Badin, and parts of Hyderabad and Thatta did not receive irrigation water from December 1999 to July 2000. Resultantly, the sugarcane in the area, sown in October / November 1999, completely perished with all inputs of farming community going down the drain. Those farmers who did somehow managed to rear their crop using irrigation water supply after July were paid the price much below what market trends warranted.
But how did this shortage of irrigation water arise? The answer to this in straightforward words is: partly natural and partly manipulated. Global warming, drought and less snowfall in Himalayas are the natural causes attributable to exploding global population and unsustainable development with all of its environmental and ecological imbalances. The other cause, which has made this water shortage from worse to worst, is manipulations and machinations of upper riparian in the Punjab.
The Sindh-Punjab water dispute can be traced back to the second half of the 19th century when British started rewarding their military men, who had fought against the insurgent indigenous Indians in 1857, with lands in Punjab. By 1875 the colonial government had started constructing canals to irrigate lands granted to their ex-servicemen. In 1893, Lord Curzon constituted the Indus River Commission, which concluded that the Punjab ‘cannot divert water without the consent of Sindh, Bahawalpur, Balochistan and Bikaner.’
It was in 1934, when Punjab started demanding construction of the Bakhra Dam on the Sutlej River. Sindh opposed this vehemently. The British rulers smelled brewing trouble and managed to bring both parties to the table. As a result the 1945 Sindh-Punjab Water Agreement was signed. According to this agreement seventy-five percent of Indus waters were allocated to Sindh and twenty-five percent to Punjab. Ninety-four percent of the waters of the Indus tributaries were allocated to the Punjab and six percent to Sindh. This is regarded as true historic distribution of Indus waters. Three years later in 1948, the Punjab unilaterally started taking more water from Indus system considering partition of India as basis of a fresh commencement of water management.
Following partition, there was a standing agreement, regarding maintenance of a status quo on water issue up to 31st March 1948 by both Sindh and Punjab. On 1st April 1948 the East Punjab diverted waters of eastern rivers resulting in escalation of Pakistan-India tension. On the other hand Sindh’s application for maintenance of status quo was withdrawn by the central government on behalf of Sindh. The World Bank intervened in 1951 and talks begun for a negotiated settlement in 1952. Initially all provinces were represented in the talks and M. S. Qureshi represented Sindh. But later he and representatives of other provinces were expelled and all-Punjabi seven-member team participated in talks. These were: (1) Mr Moinuddin, (2) Mr Hamiduddin (Chief Engineer, Punjab), (3) Mr Khalilur Rahman, (4) Mr S. Kirmani, (5) Mr S. R. Mehboob (6) Mr A. K. M. Niaz, and (7) Mr Altaf Hussain. The constitution of team clearly hinted towards the fact that actually these were the negotiations between Punjab and other nations, not between Pakistan and other nations. All these ‘negotiations’, ‘decisions’ and ‘treaties’ were done or signed by a team of Punjabies, behind the back and without the consent of Sindh. It will not be out of place to mention that the Punjab itself, who was litigant party against Sindh in the water share dispute since pre-partition days, was now taking decisions for and on behalf of Sindh!
Finally, Pakistani negotiators ‘gifted’ three eastern rivers to India in a ‘negotiated settlement’, of course along with Sindh’s share. Soon Punjab started claiming greater share from remaining rivers flowing through it. Though Mangla Dam was constructed to replenish the waters lost to India, as pointed out by former Punjabi Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Feroz Khan Noon in his memoirs, Sindh’s share lost along with surrender of three eastern rivers to India has remained ignored and uncompensated.
Many attempts were made to impose some kind of pact or agreement on Sindh enabling Punjab to legalize the greater share of water it has been taking or aimed to take from Indus and its tributaries. In 1991 they succeeded in imposing an accord on Sindh, which was agreed by Sindh government whose legitimacy would always remain doubtful. According to this water accord, 117 MAF (million acre-feet) of water were apportioned among provinces. However, except flood years, only about 105 to 110 MAF pass through the Indus River. This year during Kharf 2000 and Rabi 2000-2001 season water available for distribution has been only about 70 to 75 MAF. This has been apportioned on ‘historical use’ basis due to which Sindh is getting at least 5.064 MAF less water than warranted through 1991 water accord. The share of Punjab according to 1991 water accord come out to be 47.668% of 117.354 MAF. The share of Punjab increases to 51.407% of 105.819 MAF according to ‘historical use’ bases giving it arbitrary and unwarranted extra water by at least 3.739% during shortage years. But who imposed this ‘historical use’ share on Sindh and is it legaly and binding?
Though the Punjab had imposed 1991 water accord on Sindh, it always remained in search of niches to carve out greater possible share of water from the Indus River. The year 1994 was the year of water shortage and the then Federal Minister of Water and Power called an inter-provincial ministerial meeting to discuss the issue. An arrangement was evolved in May 1994 to tackle the shortage of Indus River waters for only one season. According to this ‘ministerial arrangement’ the average use of Indus River water from 1977 to 1982 was taken as a ‘benchmark’ and provincial distribution between Sindh and Punjab was done accordingly. Balochistan and NWFP were exempted from this ‘historical use’ distribution arrangement on the pretext that their share was already too small to curtail further. Sindh’s representative in the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), late Engr Abdur Rasool Memon, opposed this arrangement. At this a clarification was issued assuring him that the arrangement was temporary, only for one season and will not continue indefinitely. Moreover, in 1994 large parts of Sindh received good monsoon rains from June to September at short intervals as monsoon systems arising in Bay of Bengal traveled in direction of Sindh instead of Punjab. This temporary sufficiency of irrigational water did not allow Sindhi farmers to raise timely voice of dissent against the ministerial arrangement.
When water scarcity resurfaced in Rabi 1999-2000 season, Punjab demanded continuation of water distribution on the basis of 1994 ministerial arrangement. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had already sent home Engr Abdur Rasool Memon, the Sindh’s representative in IRSA, through an ordinance according to which only in-service official were allowed to become member in IRSA. Idrees Rajput, by virtue of being senior Irrigation department official, started representing Sindh in IRSA and other forums. He took stand that since the water distribution on ‘historical use’ basis was a temporary ministerial arrangement and not official decision of IRSA, it cannot continue indefinitely. Punjab’s representative responded that though the decision has not been taken by IRSA in any official meeting, the files have been moving among members of IRSA and no objection has raised so it will be taken as decision of IRSA itself and IRSA does not have power to revoke its own decisions! He further took stand that if interests of Sindh are affected, Sindh should go to Council of Common Interests (CCI). When Sindh raised the issue again in May 2000, it was decided in IRSA, with consensus, that clarification of Para 14 (A) and 14 (B) should be sought from Law and Justice Division. The Law and Justice Division clearly pointed out that water distribution according to so-called ‘historical use’ is in violation of 1991 Water Apportionment Accord. However, it was also added that until the aggrieved party goes into the CCI, the present distribution arrangement might continue. Since then Punjab has only stressed and relied on this later portion of the ‘clarification’. On October 28, 2000, IRSA sought opinion of province in this regard. All provinces submitted their opinion supporting 1991 Water Apportionment Accord except Punjab who delayed its comments until Rabi 2000-2001 season had started. Resultantly the arrangement water distribution on the so-called ‘historical use’ basis had to be continued. Later, Sindh proposed to have voting of IRSA members to settle the issue but Punjab rejected this proposal as well.
Punjab has been violating 1991 accord openly and any voice form Sindh is suppressed ruthlessly. One of the reason Sindh’s Governor Daudpoto and Irrigation Minister ANG Abbasi had to quit was their open disapproval of Punjab’s attitude and Center’s silence toward this issue. ANG Abbasi once publicly remarked: “Its not matter of Chori [theft] but Seena Zori [banditry]”.
Machinations of Punjab do not stop here. They have no end. For instance, the Tarbela dam was not constructed to replenish waters lost due to surrender of eastern rivers and as such cannot supply water to Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal and Taunsa-Panjnad Link Canal. These canals were supposed to get waters released from Tarbela only after all barrages of Sindh got full supply and the Chief Minister of Sindh gave a written approval for opening of canals for specific short period. But the fact is that in such an acute scarcity of water in Sindh, these canals are open and taking away water of Indus River, which is in fact Sindh’s rightful share.
The month of April is critical for Sindh as Kharif (mainly cotton crop) is sown during this month (in Punjab sowing stars almost one month later). Sindh’s share in April, according to 1991 water accord is 121,400 cusecs it received only 30,275 cusecs in April 2000. Though the level of water in Mangla Dam was sufficiently high, Punjab did not allow single drop from it for use in Sindh. While Sindh yearned for drops of water, Punjab continued to fill its dams for later use! The infamous Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Panjand Link canals too continued to flow and are still flowing as I write these words in March 2001.
In spite of such an acute shortage of irrigation water in Sindh, governments, both federal and provincial, are completely silent and indifferent to take appropriate measures to address to the impending calamity. This indifference seemingly arise from the fact the Punjab might be able to meet this water shortage partly through use of its sweet underground water from 89 percent of total 565,000 tube wells installed in Pakistan, and partly by overtly and covertly diverting Sindh’s share from the Indus River. Sindh, with its brackish underground water, primitive land leveling techniques due to non-availability of precision-leveling equipments and unlined tortuous water channels, is likely to face very painful and one of the grimmest economic shocks of its times.
(Written on 01 March 2001)
This article was also published in Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 2001) of 'Sangat' the periodical of SANA (Sindhi Association of North America) and on 1st January 2003