Balochistan needs a better irrigation system

Published on – June 19, 2017 – 3:00 am

QUETTA: There are reports in our news columns that XEN Irrigation launched a campaign to remove all illegal structures established to steal canal water from the Pat Feeder. The water thieves had built water courses outside the Pat Feeder Irrigation plans and they are taking away a big chunk of water using illegal means.

QUETTA: There are reports in our news columns that XEN Irrigation launched a campaign to remove all illegal structures established to steal canal water from the Pat Feeder. The water thieves had built water courses outside the Pat Feeder Irrigation plans and they are taking away a big chunk of water using illegal means.

They have also installed big suction pumps in the canal extracting water from the canal to irrigate their land in the neighbourhood. All these structures are illegal meant to deny water to the growers at the tail-end of the canal in this critical period.

The campaign had been launched on a routine basis as most of the illegal water connections, water courses and illegal pumping stations are working in connivance with the irrigation and other officials. It is mean to pacify protesters and small farmers and growers.

It is the biggest source of corruption in the Irrigation Department which remained ignored because big land owners enjoying political clout and involved in stealing canal water in a big way.

More than a year ago, a delegation of small farmers had a meeting with the then Chief Secretary and apprised him of their problem of stealing canal water in a big way. The Chief Secretary issued instructions to the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner concerned to remove all the illegal structures, mainly the pumping station and close down illegal water courses so that growers at the tail-end should get needed water for irrigation.

The order was implemented for a short time of period and afterwards, water thieves resumed their criminal activity by sucking more and more canal water and to the maximum only to deny the tail-end users. The local officials also sent a clear message to the top bureaucrat that his orders were implemented for a couple of days only.

Once the illegal structures and pumping station removed for a very brief period, they stage a comeback in no time only with the support of the officials and engineers and they also resume their earning for ignoring this illegality.

Secondly, the canal water is found to be highly polluted as some of populated areas are using both the canals, the Pat Feeder and the Kirthar Canal, as a waste water drain. The Irrigation Department had failed to check it to this date.

In 1980s, the highly talented officers and rulers under General Zia permitted to pump saline water to the Kirthar Canal as there was no outlet to carry the waste water to the sea. They polluted the entire canal water of around 1400 cusecs by mixing 300 cusecs of highly polluted saline water from the outfall drain that caused epidemics and diseases among the people who used canal water for drinking.

They simply flouted the concept of bacteria-free drinking water for people residing in remote areas of Balochistan. They were proud as they claimed to have solved the problem of saline water by pumping it again in the Kirthar Canal.

For years of protest, this practice had been stopped and Government planned to take the outfall drain to the sea ultimately. However, the Sindh Government, off and on, had obstructed the outfall drain discharges causing water logging and salinity to tens of thousands of acres of highly fertile and productive land.

More land are at risk due to unclear attitude of the Sindh as some local officers/engineers are more powerful that the Chief Minister on many issues, particularly while dealing with Balochistan.

In order to resolve all the issues in a planned manner, there is an urgent need to review the irrigation plan by discontinuing the flood irrigation system replacing it with trickle or drop irrigation in the canal irrigated division of Balochistan. It should also be useful if the same system is also used by growers in Mirani Dam Command area. Hub Dam of Balochistan is clearly meant to supply drinking water to Karachi as it is irrigating no land in this province.

The Provincial Government should divert substantial funds from the so called MPA development fund and finance the trickle or drop irrigation system by importing proper machinery and equipment to operate it at the earliest. The project should be implemented in phases so that more and more land is brought under cultivation.

A former Minister for Planning and Development under Nawab Aslam Raisani resisted the Government plan and refused to allocate fund to introduce trickle or drop irrigation system saying his MPA schemes are more important than it. It was the time when 18th Amendment was approved and the project came under Provincial Control. To this date, the project is ignored as the junk schemes under the PSDP are given preference for political and other dubious reasons.

Still there is time that the Provincial Government should slash some new schemes proposed in the Provincial Budget and finance the trickle irrigation system in the Naseerabad Division so that available water resources should be used for irrigating more and more land.

According to experts and independent economists, Balochistan can irrigate much more fertile land in the single Kachhi Valley by conserving canal water, stop pilferage of canal water.

The Government should encourage the growers to install their own system of trickle irrigation and they Government should provide help and assistance to them. For this, the growers should be granted bank loan on nominal interest rate so that they install the trickle irrigation system.

Or the Federal Government should approach the international donor agencies, international Development Finance Institutions, World Bank, Asian Development Bank to finance the project with a target to bring more than two million fertile land under cultivation.

In addition to it, the Government should build major and medium size dams on all major seasonal rivers traditionally irrigating the vast and fertile land of Kachhi Plains. The Kachhi Valley should be converted into the food basket of the entire country with its 7.5 million acres of highly fertile land in a single valley. It is surrounded by hills from all direction and with major seasonal river irrigating the plains during the seasonal floods and heavy rainfall.

The Government leaders should take the issue seriously and seek assistance from the Federal Government in financing and implementing the project which can be a real game changer.

At the same time, the Provincial Government should directly approach the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in financing and implementing mega projects in Balochistan with the consent of the Federal Government.

For the past seven decades, Balochistan remained an ignored region of Pakistan where development needs were never given priority. All the past mega projects took more than three decades to complete. Kachhi Canal had already consumed 25 long years and its first phase is not complete and similarly, the Gwadar Deepwater Port had been launched in 2002 and it is incomplete after 15 long years. Even the drinking water problem of the prestigious port project is not solve merely because the Federal Government is least interested in the port project.

At the same time, the Federal Government should be approached with a precise demand that both the major canals in Balochistan should be lined so that there is no seepage of canal water.

It is a known fact that the Pat Feeder is passing the Shahpur desert between Bugti Tribal Area and Kachhi Plains and the unlined canal in this desert is causing seepage of canal water to a massive level. According to experts, more than 300 cusecs of water is going underground and causing water logging and salinity in the downstream.

In Sohbatpur area of Naseerabad Division, more than two hundred thousand acres of land had been destroyed in water logging and salinity. We can reclaim this land by adopting trickle system of irrigation and also by plugging the seepage of canal water of 300 cusecs. It can be used to bring more land under cultivation.