Kalabagh dam: Sifting fact from fiction

Some of the ardent supporters of Kalabagh Dam Project treat Sindh’s opposition to it as a sudden and abrupt action.

This is a fiction which has contributed in making this project controversial. It is unfortunate that most of the writers who passionately advocate the construction of this project are unaware of the historical developments in inter-provincial tussle over water issues between the two provinces over the last 150 years. It is criminally insensitive to assume that opposition to KBD project by Sindh is impulsive. If we have to find an agreement on this controversial issue, where we sincerely need to keep in view the sensitivity of a lower riparian on water issues.

To appreciate Sindh’s point of view, one has to understand the nostalgia attached with the unhindered, free flow of the mighty Indus River. It runs deep in the collective psyche of their people. The first serious sign of disrupting this uncontrolled flow emerged when East India Company prepared schemes for developing canals in the Punjab plains to settle the marauding tribes of Sikhs from whom they had wrested control of the area. Later British Government continued to develop vast irrigation system which brought 15.5 million acres under cultivation. While this was a welcome development for people in Western Punjab, it was viewed with extreme apprehension in Sindh. Most analysts and experts in Punjab may not have read about the findings of Indian Irrigation Commission (1901), the Cotton Committee Report (1919), Anderson Committee determinations (1935-37), the Justice Rau Commission Report (1942) and the draft agreement of 1945 between Sindh and Punjab. But all these historical developments are the starting point of any article or a book written by a Sindhi nationalist, on water issues.

These landmark developments depict the long and hard advocacy by Sindh to safeguard its water rights from the upper riparian. As part of Bombay Presidency and after 1935, as a separate Province, Sindh was always apprehensive of the plans of upper riparian and starting with pre 1947 project of Bakhra Dam on River Sutlej, has never supported construction of water storage schemes in Indus basin. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1961 addressed the students of Sukkur Law College. Interestingly the topic he chose to speak on was “Riparian Rights in International Law.” It shows that educated class in Sindh and political leadership has always been concerned about this issue and people in other Provinces must develop a sensitive approach to understand their feelings (for those who may be interested to see the address of Mr. Bhutto, it is available on WAPDA website).

The benefits of canal irrigation were also brought to Sindh and Sukkur Barrage was completed in 1932. Also after Independence, Government of Pakistan built two Barrages, Guddu and Kotri and constructed Pat Feeder, Desert Sindh Feeder and Ghotki Feeder Canals on Guddu and Lined, Fuleli, Pinyari Feeder and Kalri Beghar Feeder Canals on Kotri to bring under irrigation additional areas. Normally such developments should have been welcomed by Sindh because it increased agricultural production to feed the ever growing population and brought economic prosperity to the region. But Sindhi nationalists take this development with a pinch of salt; not because they were against the irrigation of their lands with expansion in the canal system but because of the alleged discrimination in the land allotment policy to favour those who were not son of the soil. Although Indus Civilization had instilled a higher degree of tolerance in the behavior of people living in the province of Sindh, but in the post-independence period, bitterness on the induction of non-Sindhi farmers in the agriculture farms, overshadowed the benefits of increase in cultivated area through canal irrigation.

When the KBD Project was first presented to the Cabinet of President Zia Ul Haq in 1984, the Province of Sindh raised its concerns mostly on water availability and impact on cultivation of Sailaba (riverine) lands and asked for further studies. The Project in the shape of PC-II finally came up for approval before CDWP in March, 1989. This is the forum in which all Provinces are represented. In the CDWP Meeting, the said PC-II was conditionally approved and Ministry of Water & Power was tasked to examine the need of further studies and give a report on the objections raised by the Governments of KP and Sindh. The Government of Sindh raised nine points which mainly centred on availability of water, potential criteria of water allocation and the provision of irrigation canals from the dam. The said objections comprised valid points and the concerns of the smaller Provinces needed to be addressed with sensitivity and sympathy. All they wanted was further studies to confirm the findings of Project Consultants before submitting the case to ECNEC. Ministry of Water & Power had already constituted a Committee headed by Chairman WAPDA who happened to be Lt. Gen. ® Zahid Ali Akbar. He called a meeting but the two representatives of Sindh Province could not attend. Chairman WAPDA dispensed with their presence and sent his report to the Ministry that conducting further studies on these issues was not in the purview of this Committee. It showed lack of sensitivity to the feelings and apprehensions of a lower riparian province. At that time Sindh only wanted certain reassurances and revalidation of the findings and recommendations of the Consultants. Primarily the Govt. of Sindh was concerned with water availability and a definite assurance that there is no provision of irrigation canals in the project. It also required reassurance on water requirements of the sanctioned irrigation schemes in Sindh which were under implementation and revalidation of studies on impact on riverain area and release of water below Kotri affecting the environment in the Indus delta. The decision to hold the meeting without the participation of the Sindh showed the abrasive attitude of Chairman WAPDA. Regretfully the nine points were brushed aside which emanated from the apprehensions of Sindh with deep roots in the perception of historical injustice. This offended the Chief Minister of Sindh, Mr. Aftab Shaban Mirani. He wrote a D.O letter to the Prime Minister that points raised by Government of Sindh had not been considered by the Committee constituted as per the directions of CDWP. He recommended that concerns of the province need to be addressed first and only then the Project may be put up in the ECNEC. Not surprisingly, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto did not convene the meeting of the ECNEC to approve the Project. Her Govt. was dismissed in August 1990. From that day onwards, the Project was never formally discussed in the Planning Commission again. Moreover, the Sindh Assembly has also passed Resolutions at three different times opposing the KBD Project, after Water Apportionment Accord of 1991. Therefore, it is imperative for those who want this project to be implemented to understand the views of Sindh with greater understanding.

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