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Pakistan: Irsa's regulatory mechanism: setting the record straight.

Pakistan, June 27 -- WHILE commenting on the government of Punjab's letter to the federal government, Mr Idris Rajput in his article published in Encounter on May 30 has accused the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) of playing politics. The writer, besides joining the chorus of disinformation, has also showed his ignorance about how the regulation decisions are taken in Irsa.

It is necessary to put the record straight by giving the factual position.

In order to see the issue in correct perspective, it is necessary to understand as to how Irsa takes its regulation decisions. Before the start of Rabi season, Irsa, in consultation with all provinces and Wapda, anticipates availability of water in the next six months which comprises stored water in Tarbela and Mangla (assured availability) and likely inflows in the rivers (estimates).

Another fact to keep in mind is that irrigation system in upper Punjab (Jehlum Chenab - JC Zone) can only be fed from Jehlum and Chenab Rivers and Thal, Chashma Right Bank (CRB), Dera Ghazi Khan (DGK) & Muzzaffar Garh (MG) canals of Punjab can only draw water from Indus. Lower Punjab, downstream (d/s) of Rasul, Qadirabad, Balloki, Sulaimanki, barrages (RQBS) called Tributary Zone can be supplied water both from JC and Indus through Chashma Jehlum (Cand Taunsa Panjnad (TLink canals.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa gets its water only from Indus and its upper tributaries. Sindh and Balochistan get supplies from Indus but it can be augmented by releasing water from JC (d/s) of Panjnad. Balochistan is the only province that does not touch Indus and control of its canals is with Sindh.

At the start of the season, share of Punjab in the river Indus is also estimated. But an important point worth understanding is that the actual inflows in major rivers, Jehlum, Chenab, Indus and Kabul effects Punjab's share from Indus. For example, if the actual inflows in Jehlum and Chenab are more than the original estimates, Punjab's share from Indus decreases and vice versa. Similar effect is that of Indus and Kabul actual inflows when compared to estimates.

As usual, Irsa was carefully monitoring the amount of water which was being transferred through C-J and T-P and first cautioned Punjab on November 21, 2009 followed by reminders that they are transferring more water from Indus and their remaining share may not suffice the requirements of their main Indus canals Thal, CRB, DG and MG. Sindh also objected to these transfers but at a later stage. In order to resolve the issue, a meeting of Advisory Committee was held on December 17, 2009. In this meeting, the representatives of Sindh and Punjab were at the point of boycotting the meeting due to differences in their views but it was through the conciliatory approach of Member, Balochistan that following decisions were unanimously taken:

a) Irsa in consultation with Punjab and Sindh will review the system losses between RQBS to Panjnad to reach at a rationalised figure.

b) The transferring of water from Indus main is restricted to 0.14 million acre feet (maf) to meet the requirement of Panjnad canals through T-P Link canal till January 10, 2010.

c) Water amounting to 0.423 maf needed for Indus main canals of the Punjab will be provided by compensating the same quantum d/s Panjnad as per Irsa advice keeping in view the requirements of Sindh and Balochistan.

d) This ad-hoc arrangement shall continue till January 31, 2010 and provincial shares will be adjusted accordingly to ensure equitable distribution of water.

In order to implement the decisions, Irsa approached Sindh to depute their representative so that rationalised losses figures could be worked out in consultation with Punjab/Wapda. But Sindh refused to depute their representative and contended that losses assumed at the start of Rabi season should be maintained.

A meeting of the Advisory Committee was again called on February 11 to review the water situation and resolve the dispute. Unfortunately, no consensus could be achieved in the meeting. Punjab remained stuck to compliance of the decision of December Advisory Committee meeting where it was decided that losses in the Tributary Zone will be rationalised and then Punjab share from Indus be worked out. Punjab had come up with 10 per cent losses in J-C and 60 per cent in Tributary Zone which would result in more share of Punjab in Indus.

Unfortunately, due to vagaries of the weather there were very little rains in December-January period, specially, in the catchments of Jehlum as its inflows were historic low. Irsa, as per normal practice, reviewed actual water inflows in the four rivers from October 1 to February 10 and following scenario emerged.

On the basis of current situation, Punjab had a balance of share 0.500 maf left in Indus. This was not done only in Rabi 2010, but is a normal practice in Irsa to review the actual inflows of rivers and adjust the share of the provinces so that at the end of the season shortages are equitably shared by Punjab and Sindh.

On February 11 afternoon, despite Member, Punjab's strong opposition, all Irsa members ultimately agreed to release indented supplies to Sindh and Balochistan d/s Chashma with special additional allocation of 1,000 cusecs of Balochistan. Balochistan indent at Chashma with losses was 3,000 but it was provided 4,000 cusecs.

Three issues were put up for voting in the February 12 meeting of Irsa with following decisions:

a) It was decided with consensus that the system losses as anticipated by the Advisory Committee in its meeting held on October 05, 2009 would be adopted (consensus decision which favoured Sindh, Balochistan).

b) It was decided with 4:1 majority (member, federal dissented) that anticipated water availability and provincial shares for the balance Rabi season 2009-2010 (Feb 11-Mar 31, 2010) as worked out by operation section of Irsa shall be adopted (member, Sindh voted in favour).

c) It was decided with 3:2 majority (members federal & Sindh dissented) that para 14(d) of the Water Accord 1991 provides the freedom to the province to utilise its share as it likes, the same practice is being adopted since creation of Irsa. Therefore, CJ Link Canal is authorised with a discharge of 6,000 cusecs with immediate effect.

d) It was decided with consensus that water availability would again be reviewed on February 21, 2010.

Now how come the knowledgeable writer contends that my decision of voting for opening of CJ canal on February 12, 2010 from balanced share of Punjab in Indus harmed Balochistan or for that matter even Sindh. (C-J started running with 5,000 cusecs on February 13 and gradually reduced and closed on February 23 which amounts to 0.09 maf), specially when the indented demand of Sindh and Balochistan with additional 1,000 to Balochistan was released d/s of Chashma on February 11. In the event, Irsa had voted against opening of CJ, the crop of southern Punjab would have been damaged without any benefit to Sindh and Balochistan.

The fact that opening of CJ on February 12, 2010 was never at the cost of shares of Balochistan and Sindh could be further confirmed from final water account of Rabi where Punjab had borne a shortage of 32 per cent against 31 per cent of Sindh. Balochistan though faced a shortage of 22 per cent despite Irsa decision that it is exempted from the shortage. This was because, despite Irsa releasing full share of Balochistan d/s Chashma, Sindh did not pass on Balochistan's share as control of Balochistan canals is with Sindh. This is a chronic problem which is faced by Balochistan for many years.

All members of Irsa - an autonomous regulatory body - are experienced irrigation engineers nominated by the provinces but appointed by the prime minister and they are supposed to watch the interest of their provinces. At the same time they are also expected to act with highest professional integrity and honesty keeping in mind the provisions of 1991 Water Accord.

Moreover, in a technical forum like Irsa, stance taken by any member needs some rationale to win the support of other members rather than merely saying that we are doing this because our government has directed us to do as such. As there was no logic in defending their stance of not providing water in C-J, member (Sindh) and member (Federal) could not win the support of member Balochistan and the Chairman/Member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who had the casting vote.

It is important to note that both member, Sindh and member, Federal during their chairmanship and whole tenure voted for opening of CJ canal in similar water availability scenario. Even Mr Rajput, during his tenure as member, Irsa, Sindh from July 1998 to October 2000, was a party to opening of CJ canal even in worse water availability scenario (4 maf and 3 maf were transferred to Punjab through CJ in Rabi 1998-99 and 1999-2000 respectively as compared to only 0.8 maf transferred during whole Rabi 2009-10).

I am deeply surprised by the disinformation given by Mr Idrees Rajput on the opening of C-J in February 12, 2010, ignoring similar decisions taken by him as member Irsa in worst water availability scenario

Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Friday Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 27, 2010
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