Balochistan, Sindh lock horns on water

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Besides its economic woes, the low-level insurgency and a Rs16 billon overdraft, the Balochistan government now finds itself bogged down in a serious row with the Sindh government on several financial matters.

Sindh is currently using additional water from the Hub Dam to tide over the water crisis in certain parts of Karachi. The arrangement was worked out when former Sindh chief minister, Liaquat Ali Jatoi, visited Quetta in 1997 and requested his then-Balochistan counterpart, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, that additional water be released from Hub to Karachi to curb imminent water riots.

While Balochistan itself gets about 28 percent water from Hub Dam against its 72 percent share, Mengal conceded Sindh’s request and allowed the use of additional water. Since then, the Sindh government has been using more than its legitimate share from the Hub Dam, to the disadvantage of the people of Balochistan.

In a meeting in Quetta in November this year between Balochistan chief minister, Jam Yousaf, and Sindh minister for inter-provincial coordination, Dr Sohrab Sarki, Balochistan informed Sindh that Karachi had to pay Rs9 billion to Quetta for using water from the Hub Dam.

The Sindh government refuses to pay this amount and alleges that Quetta sold additional water to Karachi consumers through the Karachi Sewerage and Water Board (KSWB). The KWSB has heavily charged consumers in Karachi without paying a penny to Balochistan.

“Balochistan has always come to Sindh’s help on the issue of water shortage. It jumped in to oppose the Kalabagh dam project and development of other storage facilities upstream of the Indus River system. Whenever there was a problem, the provincial chief executive of Sindh would rush to Quetta and hold talks with his counterpart, seeking additional water from the Hub reservoir for Karachi, just to avert possible water riots,” says a Balochistan official, disappointed that Sindh is unwilling to return the favour.

The second dispute is over Kirthar Canal. Balochistan is at the tail end of the Indus River system and, hence, the last to receive canal water from the system. It has to depend on Sindh for its due share of water as per the 1991 accords, unanimously signed by all parties. Balochistan’s share of water was more than the provincial government was able to use in the absence of basic infrastructure for bringing in more land under cultivation.

Differences developed after the Sindh government built the Saifullah Magsi Canal and separated the share of Sindh from Balochistan. The distributaries were built at a place which is sarcastically called Garang, a sudden disruption or an artificial and steep fall obstructing the normal flow of the Kirthar Canal or its velocity downstream. The Saifullah Magsi Canal irrigates the lands in Shahdad Kot.

Following the 1991 water accords, Balochistan was supposed to get 2,000 cusecs of water for the Kirthar Canal; Balochistan has not received water from that canal to date. Engineers responsible for monitoring water at different stages confirm that there is some improvement in the down-flow of water. But there is a fear among growers and planners that cotton and paddy crops will be affected if Balochistan does not get its due share.

“We are only getting 37 percent of our share from Khirthar Canal while 63 percent of the canals’ water goes to Sindh,” say officials in Quetta. A source adds: “Sindh is obstructing the flow of water to Kirthar Canal and denying Balochistan its legitimate share according to the 1991 accords among the provinces. On this point, the Balochistan government has demanded compensation of Rs23 billion for farmers.”

Sindh also claims Balochistan has to pay it Rs900 million for wheat it sold to Balochistan during the procurement season. The Balochistan government has unilaterally adjusted the payment against outstanding water charges.

A third bone of contention relates to the denial, by both Sindh and Punjab, of revenue from Gas Development Surcharge (GDS). Balochistan claims an absolute right over the GDS and says the entire amount of Rs16 billion should go to it.

“The Center supports stronger provinces when it comes to inter-provincial disputes,” laments a senior bureaucrat. “Interestingly, those making claims on the GDS are the establishment’s own Muslim Leaguers in power in Balochistan and not political opponents. The people of Balochistan thought Musharraf would intervene on the issue of GDS long ago but nothing has happened.”

A minister in Balochistan government says Rs16 billion is distributed between Sindh and the Punjab annually as part of budgetary allocations from the federal government; Balochistan has been denied its legitimate share annually, and by design “to keep the province backward in the future also”.

Rehmat Baloch, a National Party MPA, insists that the GDS should not be a part of the Divisible Pool of resources to be shared among the provinces.

Late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, as Leader of the Opposition in the Balochistan Assembly in 1991, calculated the outstanding GDS amount to be Rs360 billion and demanded payment. Rauf Mengal, a former Member of the National Assembly (MNA), also claims that the federal government needs to pay up US$112 billion to Balochistan because Sui Gas has been used as an ‘import substitute’ since 1954.

“The concept of autonomy, particularly financial autonomy, is incomplete without conceding the legitimate rights of weakest province of Pakistan,” Kachkol Ali, Balochistan’s Leader of the Opposition, told TFT.

While Islamabad keeps talking about the RS130 billion it is currently spending on a number of mega projects in Balochistan, the Jam Yousaf-led provincial government has fallen into a major debt trap. Earlier in June this year, Balochistan Finance Minister Syed Ehsan Shah tabled a deficit budget of Rs10.96 billion for the fiscal year 2006-07; Balochistan’s overdraft from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has now touched Rs16 billion and the province has to dish out Rs250 million per month as interest repayment.

In the meantime, the Balochistan government’s constant demand for a new formula for the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award has fallen on deaf ears.

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