The Punjab government has decided to overhaul the irrigation system by taking action against those involved in canal water theft, The Nation has learnt.

The decision was taken after the Irrigation Department Secretary Capt (r) Saif Anjum apprised the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that the water theft was on the rise, and there were lacunas in the laws governing the irrigation and revenue collection matters.

The CM was also told that due to water theft, farmers were being badly affected. He was also informed about the failure of police to curb this crime. The CM has directed the department to forward its recommendations to the special committee. The sources told this scribe that owing to weak laws, the department and public exchequer had suffered a loss of over Rs 7,700 million. “Since those involved in water theft had got stay orders from different courts so the collection by the Board of Revenue was only two to three percent” said a senior officer requesting anonymity. He added that water theft cases in the current season rose to around 40, 000. The officer said that all-out efforts to streamline the irrigation system, a backbone of economy agriculture and industry, badly failed, and the bigwigs continue to steal water even during the day light. He added the Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA) had also failed to stop water thefts and collect revenues.

Talking about the sub-committee, the CM had constituted to improve the irrigation system, the officer said, “MNA Chaudhry Asadur Rahman will be its convener while MPAs, retired PIDA secretaries, engineers, university professors and farmers will be its members.”

The documents, available with this scribe, reveal the committee’s terms of reference: the committee will examine governance issues for better canal management, effective regulation of canals to ensure equal distribution of water; it will also look into development of department’s infrastructure in view of present and future requirements, the impact and measure s to control discharge of hazardous materials will also be studied

The sources also revealed that the defaulters and water thieves were the major beneficiaries of loopholes in the laws. The Punjab Assembly adopted the amended draft, proposed by the department. The new law, the Canal and Drainage (Amendment) Act, 2015,will curb the water theft. It will be a non-bailable offence and the canal officers’ cases would be out of the jurisdiction. of civil courts. The department proposed the law, after it miserably failed to curb this menace. Due to absence of this law, the collection of ‘biyana’ could not exceed 43 per cent in 2015.