A proposed power plant aggravates Pakistan’s interprovincial water imbalance Punjab.


Punjab Nov 27: Last month, on October 22, the Sindh Assembly strongly condemned the federal government’s decision of issuing a no-objection certificate (NOC) to a power generation concern for developing a 25-megawatt hydropower project on the Chashma-Jhelum (CJ) Link Canal and adopted a unanimous resolution against it. The condemnation came right from the top, with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah seeking a permission from the assembly speaker to move a resolution against the federal government’s decision.
The 22,000 cusecs capacity CJ Link Canal was established to cater to the shortage in the Jhelum River in case the Indus had surplus water. The work on the Canal started in 1967 and was completed in 1971. The canal also feeds Greater Thal Canal and gets water from the Indus to take water flows to agricultural lands, which were to be fed primarily from Mangla Dam, built on Jhelum River.
The current controversy over hydropower project is decade old. The plan in 2009 was to set up a power plant in Khushab district of Punjab province. However, residents of Sindh province have demanded the scrapping of the project. They oppose the project since it seeks to generate electricity from the water of the CJ Link Canal, but the canal itself is already running dry due to acute shortage of water in the province. Once the power plant becomes operational, Punjab would require water throughout the year, and thus CJ Link Canal would become a perennial canal, translating in further uncertainty in water supply for Sindh province, on top of its limited supply. This will have implications for the province’s agriculture. At present, even without the power plant, Sindh does not get adequate water supply during the Rabi, leave alone the Kharif season. There are fears that once the power plant becomes operational, Sindh would not get water even for the Rabi season for winter crops, seriously denting the region’s agriculture sector. The power plant will essentially enable Punjab to draw more share of water from the Indus river, further putting Sindh at a disadvantage.
Taking heed of people’s wishes, the Sindh assembly had passed a resolution in January 2010 opposing the project. Since then there had been intermittent attempts to push through the project, but they didn’t materialise until this year when ignoring Sindh’s concerns, the Indus River System Authority went ahead granting a NOC to a hydropower company for constructing the plant.
Water dispute among Pakistan’s provinces has been a decades old affair. Being lower riparian, Sindh has been at the receiving end in case of water availability. Sindh has regularly alleged that Punjab has already diverted a huge amount of water from the Indus river through different canals. Historically, it has also raised reservations on construction of dams of large storage reservoirs due to their potential catastrophic impact on the Indus delta, including drying up the region and severely affecting the coastal communities of Sindh.
An agreement was signed between various provinces in 1991 called as Water Apportionment Accord which determined the use of waters of the Indus Basin between the provinces of Pakistan: Punjab 47%, Sindh 42%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 8% and Baluchistan 3%. The agreement was followed by the setting up of the Indus River System Authority, which was tasked to implement the accord. However, the overall dominance of Punjab province in Pakistan means that this arrangement has only worked for the advantage of Pujnab only, with other provinces receiving much lesser share of water.
This problem has been aggravated by the water mismanagement practices in Pakistan. The country uses excessive water than its requirements and wastes water due to lack of saving mechanisms. It has the world’s fourth highest rate of water use and its water intensity rate is the world’s highest. Yet, the country stores less water among the available surface flows due to lack of significant storage. It receives around 145 million acre feet of water every year, but can only save 13.7 million acre feet. Nearly 70% of Pakistan’s population is directly or indirectly linked to agriculture. This sector consumes 80% of Pakistan’s water, from the canal system. Yet, this water is highly underpriced, as per the International Monetary Fund. As a result, this cost recovers only a quarter of annual operating and maintenance costs. Moreover, agriculture too remains untaxed. This mismanagement of water has made Pakistan vulnerable to long drought spells and extreme floods.
The vagaries of climate change have further added to this complex mix, making Pakistan the most water stressed country in the world. As a result, the available water resources are unable to meet the demands of the increasing population.
Yet it appears that Pakistan’s political leadership is not seized of the problem, as it continues to promote projects with questionable benefits such as the Thar coal fired power plant in Tharkarparkar district of Sindh province and Diamer Bhabha and Mohamed dams – projects which require considerable amount of national resources. These flawed development priorities will surely have implications for the country, raising the stakes for the functioning of the federation.