Who cares about the demise of Manchar Lake.
REHABILITATION continues to elude Manchar lake primarily due to the incomplete Right Bank Outfall Drain-II (RBOD-II) that is being built between Sehwan and Thatta. The drain is meant to carry effluent, presently being thrown in Manchar lake, to Gharo creek.
Once home to migratory birds, Manchar lake stands destroyed. The lake is fed freshwater from the Indus River only during the monsoon season which doesn't help dilute the effects of the toxic wastewater currently being discharged therein.
The lake's rapid destruction necessitated the construction of RBOD-II in 2001 with project completion targeted by January 2006 at a cost of Rs14 billion. Since then the project has experienced exceptional delays.
Project completion was initially targeted for January 2006 at a cost of Rs14 billion. Last year the cost was revised to Rs61.98bn and the new completion deadline is November 2019
Last year the cost of RBOD-II was revised to Rs61.98bn, out of which Rs29.21bn have been spent so far.
The project's first revision was approved at a cost of Rs29bn by the federal government in 2005 while the second revision of Rs61bn took place in July 2017 by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) which has fixed the new project completion deadline of November 2019.
So far around 73 per cent of the work has been completed while the rest is pending owing to difficulties in land acquisition.
Following the project cost's second revision, the federal government's share of Rs6.5bn have also been released in FY2017-18, project authorities say. Once verified, this amount is to be utilised towards settling land acquisition cases and clearing contractor liabilities that stand around Rs6bn.
To acquire privately owned land for a public sector project, a land acquisition award is passed by a Land Acquisition Officer (LAO) who is usually a revenue officer at the taluka level. Sources say that in several cases LAOs have overestimated the per acre cost of land, making it incompatible with the price assessed by RBOD management.
For example 'in Kotri landowners are assessing the cost of their land at Rs10 million an acre while under the drain's revised project cost (PC) Rs700,000 an acre has been approved, up from Rs300,000 an acre allocated in the old PC,' says a project official.
The Supreme Court, showing concern over Manchar lake's rehabilitation, wants an early completion of the entire channel RBOD-I, II and III.
There have already been large-scale migrations of the local fishing community due to heavy effluent discharge in the lake. According to fishing community leader Mustafa Mirani of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), adequate rainfall can help rehabilitate the lake but it won't enough contamination continues at the same scale. Mr Mirani states that the lake once provided water for agriculture to the surrounding 100,000 acres which 'is no longer the case.'
For rehabilitation, oversight is also being maintained by the Supreme Court mandated Judicial Commission on Clean Water and Sanitation. The commission, headed by retired Justice Amir Hani Muslim, recently got a Sindh Irrigation Department scheme, costing a whopping Rs14bn, shelved as other inexpensive options are being examined.
Instead, the committee resolved, the lake could be fed through two old escapes Maado and Rawat which are part of the rice canal system; providing 500 cusecs water each to MNVD.
'We plan to draw 1,000 cusecs of water from upstream the Sukkur barrage and divert it towards the rice canal to feed the lake. Once the lake has been flushed-out the same amount of water will be released into the Indus river through Aral Wah, upstream Kotri; thus ensuring there's been no wastage,' says an irrigation officer from the Sindh irrigation department.
Initially designed to accommodate 2,271 cusecs through RBOD-II, with the addition of RBOD-III during the Mir Zaffarullah Jamali government, the drain's capacity increased to 3,500 cusecs.
The drain now also carries effluent from Nasirabad and Dera Murad Jamali through RBOD-III. RBOD-II and RBOD-I/MNVD is connected through a channel, the 'Indus Link', built by Wapda. The 'Indus Link', claims an RBOD-II official, is ready and with the drain's completion will divert effluent from RBOD-I to RBOD-II.