Kalabagh Dam Project – sifting facts from fictions

(Episode 11)

Even if Kalabagh Dam (KBD) is constructed as a storage dam, WAPDA would construct off-taking canals stealthily to reduce the downstream flows.

To support this myth, it is alleged that Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) Link Canal was opened unilaterally by Punjab in 1985.

In so far as one time incident of opening of CJ Link Canal almost 31 years ago is concerned, the reader may keep in mind that Water Apportionment Accord had not been signed at that time. The CJ Link Canal was part of Indus Basin Replacement Works and was to be used along with Taunsa-Panjnad Link Canal to compensate for the losses in Eastern Rivers in view of Indus Water Treaty. These two link canals connecting Indus River with Jhelum and Chenab Rivers were to augment supplies in the canal command area of Southern Punjab through Chashma and Taunsa Barrages.

The year 1985 had a particular dry Summer coupled with historically unprecedented low flows in the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. The mean monthly average flows in Indus, Jhelum & Chenab rivers were reduced by 28.5%, 31.4% and43.4% respectively during April-June 1985 period as compared to mean monthly average flows of the same months from 1970 to 1984.

The situation turned acute in the canal command areas of Trimmu and Taunsa Barrages covering Southern Punjab divisions of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan. The sowing of Kharif crops was severely affected and reduced to one half of the total acreage of Cotton crop alone. The new governments at Federal and at all Provinces were recently established after the party-less elections held on February 28, 1985. With no restrictions on floor crossing and on vote of no confidence, the political posturing by the respective provincial leadership as saviour of water rights was high.The then Chief Minister Punjab, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, who was from Lahore (majority of the previous Chief Ministers belonged to South Punjab) was under intense pressure on handling water shortage situation. He took cognizance of the issue and held parleys with the then Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Ghous Ali Shah, for resumption of supplies from CJ Link Canal which was closed on May 9, 1985. The talks however, remained inconclusive and the matter was referred to the Federal Government. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Punjab announced financial grant of Rs. 200,000/- for each of the three drought affected Divisions of South Punjab. Seven privilege motions were moved in the Punjab Assembly and fiery speeches were madeby MPAs from South Punjab, criticizing the Punjab Government for not taking up the issue. Simultaneously three privilege motions were moved in the Sindh Assembly asking the Sindh Government to take notice of the statements of the members of the Punjab Assembly.

In the above backdrop, the Federal Governmentto whom the matter was already referred took charge of the issue and on the directions of the then Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, the CJ Link Canal was opened on the late evening of June 8, 1985 for a very limited water discharge of up to 4,000 cusecs against the canal capacity of 21,700 cusecs. Ministry of Water & Power was given directions not to publicize the PM’s orders in view of the sensitivity of the situation.

At that time Prime Minister was Mr. Junejo, Minister for Water & Power was Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Minister for Food and Agriculture was Kazi Abdul Majeed Abid, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister was Capt. U.A.G. Essani and Secretary Ministry of Water and Power was Mr. Wahab F. Sheikh. Not even one of them belonged to the Punjab Province.The decision to open the canal by the Prime Minister Mr. Muhammad Khan Junejo was confirmed by the Chief Minister Sindh Syed Ghous Ali Shah who on the floor of the Sindh Assembly informed that “he was told this morning that the canal was reopened on the orders of Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo”. The honourable Chief Minister further said, “… it was a fact that Sindh was not consulted before reopening of the Chashma-Jhelum link canal, though it was reopened when the water level in Tarbela had reached a point at which the requirements of Sindh could be met” (Daily Dawn of June 12, 1985 – relevant clipping available on WAPDA website). The Prime Minister was reportedly a disciple of the then Pir of Pagaro. Hewanted to deflect the possible criticism of the Prime Minister’s decision and against all factsaccused the Governor of Punjab of unilaterally ordering CJ canal opening. This statement got wide publicity in Sindh and was accepted by those who wanted to believe this version of events because of their own misgivings and fears from Punjab.

The issue central to the controversy was whether CJ Link Canal can be opened without the consent of the Sindh government or not. In this difference of opinion Sindh had the justification because in 1972 when Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan, an agreement was signed between Punjab and Sindh on which Mr. Abdul Hafeez Pirzada had signed on behalf of Federal Government. This agreement clearly stated that on the objection of Chief Minister of Sindh, water would not be released in the CJ Link Canal. But this agreement was for a limited period and because of unusual drought in 1985, the matter was taken by the Federal Government in its own hands. In this regard an alleged statement by Chief Minister Punjab negating the Sindh government’s veto right was given negative publicity in Sindh. In response, the CM Punjab issued a long explanation that ultimate authority of opening of CJ Link rests with the Federal government and reassured his Sindhi brethren that should their canals ever go dry, the Punjab will irrigate their lands with our blood (Daily Dawn of June 12, 1985).

Regarding water issues, there are disagreements which was also in this case. And that is why Federal Government tried to solve the problem but the available record shows that none of the federating units or a federally controlled organization had unilaterally taken any action.In Pakistan’s federal structure it has never happened that a development scheme for any kind of project is approved and funds allocated without the consent of any province. Had this been the case, the KBD for which the province of Punjab having majority of the population would have got the scheme approved from Planning Commission. It is because of the opposition by the federating units that this development scheme has not yet been approved. On the other hand, Diamer Basha Dam which is far more difficult to construct is under implementation because it has the approval of the four federating units.

I have given these details because detractors of KBD in their argumentation express such apprehensions which negate the Constitutional framework as well as the structure of the Federation.

In the context of apprehension that once KBD is built, KP or Punjab would construct off-taking canals, it has been explained in detail in one of the previous episodes that the said component was declared not feasible by KBD Consultants. Moreover even if such a notion of constructing off-taking canals is considered itwould have to go through following steps:-

1.Planning Stage (2 Years)

2.Approval Stage and Award (1 Year)

3. Construction Stage (4 Years)


Also the financial sanction for such mega schemes is approved by NEC (National Economic Council) which is not possible without the concurrence of federating units.

Here it would not be out of context to mention that the areas in KP which were supposed to be irrigated through proposed off-taking canal from KBD, will now be receiving water through Chashma Right Bank Lift Canal. The said project has recently been approved through an agreement between the Federal and the KP Governments. The honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan also announced this project in his recent address to a public gathering in Dera Ismail Khan. These developments, therefore, leave no justification for nurturing any apprehension of an outlet from KBD reservoir even in future. 

(The writer is  Wapda chairman and can be reached at chairman@ wapda.gov.pk)

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