Lahore High Court Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has advised the government to take the matter of the construction of Kalabagh Dam (KBD) to the Council of Common Interest (CCI) to sort out the inter-provincial differences on the issue that falls under the domain of fundamental rights. Hearing a petition against the federal government’s plan to abandon Kalabagh on Friday, he stressed its relevance to the present-day ground realities in the country by pointing to the worst water and power crisis the people were facing. The court, unhappy at the authorities’ failure to file their point of view as asked for by it, gave them another opportunity to do so and ordered the Secretary, Water and Power, to appear before it on August 30, the day next hearing of the writ petition is scheduled to take place. The petitioner, apart from quoting certain facts and figures about the benefits of the project, had pointed out that the former caretaker Chief Minister of KPK Engineer Shamsul Mulk, who had been Wapda Chairman as well, had stated that the KBD was not an issue of Punjab alone but a matter of the country’s survival that was at stake due to the fast depleting water resources.

There is little doubt that with every passing day the twin crises of water and power shortages were worsening. The monsoon rains that in the previous years used to bring substantial relief in loadshedding, if not an end to it, have not been able to make as much difference. Even for the duration of Sehri and Iftar that the government proudly announced would be loadshedding-free, people suffer darkness even in metropolitan areas, not to take of the situation in the outlying areas. Wapda, a body composed of experts and charged with building dams, had maintained, in its earlier appearance for the petition, that the apprehensions of KPK, Sindh and Balochistan were ‘baseless…based on hearsay and lack of knowledge’.

Thanks to the shortage of electricity, the industrial growth in the country has nosedived, the agricultural tube wells remain inoperative, the domestic needs unmet and the people suffer in the agonizing humid weather. Yet, the government, claiming to be oriented towards the welfare of the people, stays unconcerned. The Bhasha Dam that has been chosen in place of Kalabagh Dam is no substitute, even for KPK, one of the main objectors of KBD, because the site is 50 feet below Dera Ismail Khan and thus its 800,000 acres of agricultural land would not be irrigated economically. The KBD instead is located higher and would greatly benefit KPK. Seen in the wider perspective, the KBD holds the key to Pakistan’s progress and development. It has the potential to generate more than 3,600MW of power, apart from providing timely water for the irrigation of vast tracts of land in different provinces and preventing floods. There is no justification for shelving it for an indefinite period. As its feasibility is beyond question, the work can start with the word ‘Go’ and that’s what the ruling leadership should be doing without further loss of time.