President of Pakistan, Sindh speaker among 147 water thieves: ADP

Post Source: The News International Newspaper – July 28, 2010

Sindh rejects ADB report; bank withdraws funding

By Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report has accused top Sindhi politicians including President Asif Ali Zardari, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Khuhro and other Sindhi landlords of stealing canal water through Direct Outlets (DOs), a major source of water theft that is virtually turning the irrigated lands situated at the tail-end of water courses into barren tracts.

The report, a severe indictment of the political elite, said that in Nasir Division of Rohri canal where President Zardari’s lands are located, 354 per cent extra water is captured through Direct Outlets (DOs) by influential landowners and in this way they are getting 11.43 cusecs water per acre against the designated amount of 3.23 cusecs per acre. In case of President Zardari’s land, 138 per cent extra water is being granted for irrigation. Nisar Khuhro’s lands are being irrigated through 292 per cent extra water secured through DOs from main canals. Irrigation laws don’t permit DO to anybody. Anyone drawing water through DO is committing a theft, said an irrigation expert who recently retired from the Sindh Irrigation Development Authority (SIDA).

Although water scarcity and theft by the landed elite remains a burning issue in rural Sindh, it has hardly caught the attention of the mainstream media. Data furnished through media reports published in Sindhi language newspapers indicate that in the month of June only, anti-theft protests were organised at more than one thousand places.

The Sindh government, instead of looking into the matter, has disapproved the ADB report that was prepared to fund Sindh Water Resources Development and Management Investment Programme to be funded by the bank. Consequently, the ADB has withdrawn the funding offer, it has been learnt.

The report was prepared by a team of 17 national and international consultants who worked on it from March to August 2009. Murad Ali Shah, then Sindh’s irrigation minister who now holds the portfolio of finance, confirmed to The News that ADB had submitted a report but it was turned down by the provincial government. “There were numerous mistakes. Lots of things were wrong,” he said when contacted through telephone for his version. He refused going into the details about the individuals listed for capturing water through DO, including President Zardari.

President Zardari’s spokesman didn’t respond to telephone calls and messages dropped for his version. However, the report has mentioned his name, also of Nisar Khuhro.

MNA Marvi Memon, who heads a National Assembly’s sub-committee on climate change and had been working on water theft, said she had visited areas in Sindh and the Punjab and theft by landed elite was a common practice in both provinces. Marvi has directed authorities in both provinces to submit a report to her committee about how many landowners were receiving irrigation water through DOs. The sub-committee’s meeting will be held today (Wednesday).

The ADB report’s copy is available with The News. It said the capturing of water has been allowed through lack of enforcement and loss of management control. “It has changed the cropping patterns on large landholdings to higher water demand crops with lower economic returns to water (but higher financial returns on land),” said the report. It further states: “Despite the high flows, the level of elite (water) capture results in shortage of water for most farmers, creating opportunities for rent seeking that give an impression of power of irrigation officials when, in fact, they have lost effective control of the irrigation system and can only influence irrigation at the margin.”

Writing in reference to Rohri Canal/Nasir Division where President Zardari’s lands are located, the report states: “The large transfers of water from ordinary farms to influential landowners with DO and illegal outlets is not only inequitable but also economically damaging…Substantial economic costs have been incurred through misallocation of water.”

The ADB report has listed as many as 147 landlords benefiting through DO only in Nasir Division of Rohri Canal that include the names of President Zardari and Nisar Khoro. Although, the Sindh government has rejected the report, Professor Ejaz Qureshi who was then General Manager of Sindh Irrigation Development Authority (SIDA), now retired, endorsed the contents of the report. “They (government) have tried to hush it up but the report is based on facts.” Qureshi said DO is part of water theft and is hooliganism of grave nature. He said while a poor farmer receives water from water courses, the feudals get it directly through canals. “Due to this reason, sanctioned lands don’t get water.” He said that according to irrigation laws, there was no room for DO.

Marvi Memon, who is working on water theft, said: “This is downright criminal. In last 10 days, I have toured Sindh and Punjab to see why the poor people of both provinces are complaining of water shortages, how they are used in inter-provincial disputes, and how the elite with the connivance of irrigation bureaucracy steal their rights.”

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