May 302008

Tanvir Zahid

Much-needed, politicalised, opposed, condemned and supported multi-purpose Kalabagh Dam has at last been pronounced dead. Irrespective of the coalition regime of PPP Parliamentarians, PML (N), ANP and JUI (F) performance during the last about two months and implementation of the much-trumpetted Action Plan for first 100 Days, the democratically elected civilian government has earned the singular distinction of burying the KBD and shelving it finally for all times to come. KBD has been through many ups and downs but never saw the day of the light though hopes for its construction, after all, were revived and then dashed to the ground after sometime by every civilian or military government which came into power.

It was indeed a mega project and as such its tragic demise should have been announced by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani or PPP Ch-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who is calling all the shorts, and not by PPP Parliamentarians Secretary General and Federal Water and Power Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. (A young man on hearing about KBD being shelved once for all instantly remarked “These Pervaizs have surely done us great harms”. The reference was obviously to President General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, former Punjab Chief Minister Ch Pervaiz Elahi and Federal Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to say the least.)

Only a couple of years back, 2005 to be more or less exact, Kalabagh Dam was again a victim of grand betrayal much more than a tactical withdrawal by the strong exponent then adorning the COAS uniform and also holding the highest civilian position of the President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf to say the least. In all fairness and on the basis of the treatment meted out to Kalabagh Dam over the years by the civilian governments and military rulers without undertaking its construction, it now seems to have been shelved and put in the cold storage once for all.This was so when the COAS/President had spoken about country’s water reservoirs thus leaving little hope for KBD being constructed at all along with four other dams by 2016. Basha Dam and Munda Dam were like the Tarbela Dam given preference over Kalabagh Dam which would not be undertaken till the ever elusive national consensus is evolved among the stake holders. When construction of major water reservoirs was to be undertaken under the Indus Waters Treaty in mid and late 1960s, the Terbela Dam was given preference over the Kalabagh Dam by those at the helm of national and WAPDA affairs then. This was done in order to gain experience through construction of a rather difficult Tarbela Dam and only then take up Kalabagh Dam project.

Work on Terbela Dam was accordingly started and completed in 1976. But afterwards, days, months and years kept passing but there was no Kalabagh Dam insight all around. The young engineers who gained experience through construction of Terbela Dam have over the last three decades grown in years and retired from service one after the other on attaining the age of superannuation. Kalabagh Dam has at last been revived though deferred as well till evolving of the national consensus which may or may not be forthcoming even after 10 years by 2016. If national consensus has not been achieved during last five decades almost, then how it can be ensured in a decade with the stake holders in general and opponents Sindh and NWFP sticking to their guns without showing any deviation from their oft-stated stances against the Kalabagh Dam.

The KBD, no point on mentioning its salient features now that it has been pronounced dead and shelved once for all, has once again been let down and left in the lurch despite its being studied, examined, investigated, probed, revised and adjusted for more than five decades. According to WAPDA officials, construction of Kalabagh Dam can be undertaken within six months or so after updating the documents and cost estimates prepared in 1988 and completed in next about seven years. On the other hand, Basha Dam and Munda Dam would take some years more before work on their construction could start.

With no additional water storage facility coming up, more and more precious natural resources of water would continue flowing into the Arabian sea from under the Kotri Barrage as sheer waste. Even now, none could say how long this situation would persist. As a matter of fact, it is not necessarily the Kalabagh Dam or Pakistan Dam or Indus Dam. The title matters very little. It is the additional water storage facility which is needed most without wasting any more time. Quite unfortunately, Kalabagh Dam is being talked, discussed every now and then, only to be vehementally opposed, because work on it could commence in the minimum possible as compared to any other site on the mighty Indus river.The Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan share the Indus river water according to 1991 Water accord as being enforced and supervised by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) comprising representatives from all the four provinces. The IRSA and the Water Accord would still be in place and working and being enforced if the Kalabagh Dam is constructed. Each of the four provinces would continue to get their share of the Indus waters without any hanky panky through IRSA. The additional storage facility would mainly be utilized for preserving the water going into the sea as sheer waste and even Sindh not showing any interest to save the huge quantity.

No doubt, a certain quantity of water has to be flown into the sea from under the Kotri Barrage. But what the opponents to the Kalabagh Dam do not realize, intentionally or otherwise, is that much less than 10 million acres of feet of water is essentially required to flow into the sea below the Kotri Barrage for preserving and safeguarding the agricultural system of Sindh province and certainly not more than 20 MAF as has been the case for most of last three decades at least if not earlier.

A number of civilian and military governments during the last more than five decades have come and gone voluntarily or forcibly. But Kalabagh Dam has remained in the books only from where this also went missing some years back. Kalabagh Dam issue was activated more than a decade after the Terbela Dam being operational since 1976 during the military regime of President/COAS General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to the extent that the tender documents etc were all prepared. The country’s third military ruler after Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan perished in C-130 tragedy near Bahawalpur in August 1988 and the Kalabagh Dam was again pushed back and put in the cold storage after Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the former senior bureaucrat, assumed the highest office of the President of Pakistan. Had General Muhammad Zia ul Haq lived couple of years more, the situation might have been quite different and changed rather pleasantly?

When civilians elected Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif got the provinces together to sign the Water Accord for equitable distribution of the Indus river water, the opposing provinces of Sindh and NWFP could also be brought around to agree to the construction of Kalabagh Dam. But this did not happen then and the situation continued to aggravate with the passage of time. This scribe remembers very well that retired three star Army general, Ghulam Safdar Butt, as WAPDA chairman persistently asked the media men to refrain from asking questions about Kalabagh Dam. The WAPDA Chief used to tell the media people that if there is one voice in favour of Kalabagh Dam, the next day negative statements start pouring in from the opponents activating the controversy. “If you (media) people just keep silent about Kalabagh Dam, then it would be rather easier to go ahead with the plans to construct it”, Ghulam Safdar Butt used to say quite emphatically.The former WAPDA Chairman expired couple of years back and the coalition regime has buried the Kalabagh Dam now once forever. The ever elusive national consensus could not be developed as the petty, selfish and vested interests have always and even now prevailed upon the national interests.

Source: Pakistan Observer, 30/5/2008

 Posted by at 10:52 am

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