NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 26

No rains, no canal water in Cholistan

Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa has sent an SOS to government authorities: “Help Cholistan villages, and save them from complete destruction.

“Tell the Khadim-e-Azam, we – the people of Cholistan villages – are dying thirsty. There’s no rain for months. Tell him, we are also without canal water for many months,” the Lambardar of Chak No 337/HR says.

The small village of Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa is situated at the brink of Cholistan in tehsil Fort Abbas of district Bahawalnagar. Situated at the tail-end of the Hakra Right canal, a whole lot of about 30 villages could get little canal water for their crops for the last many years.

“Irrigation Department officials are selling our share of water to affluent zamindars having land near the water head-works,” alleges Chaudhry.

Water theft might have not pained Ghulam Mustafa and the likes much had they been getting an uninterrupted electricity supply for tube-wells. But power is also a scarce utility in the region.

“And running tube-wells on diesel is simply unaffordable because of very high fuel prices,” the small zamindar continues to relate the sufferings of the area dwellers.

Chaudhry Irshad Ali, a resident of nearby Chak 338/HR, has a slightly different viewpoint. He believes that theft is not the single reason for the unavailability of canal water in the area. “The old water channel has lost the capacity to hold the required quantity of water with the passage of time,” the former tehsil naib nazim says. He regrets that the population of over a hundred thousand people has reached the verge of disaster, partly because of corruption in the Irrigation Department and mainly because of the canal’s capacity problem. However, he adds, it is a lack of a sense of responsibility and mismanagement on part of the Irrigation Department that no efforts have been made during the past 30 years to enhance the capacity of the channels.

Chaudhry Irshad Ali says that the worst affected villages on the Minor 4L of the Hakra Right canal include: 329/HR, 330/HR, 331/HR, 332/HR, 333/HR, 334/HR, 335/HR, 336/HR, 337/HR, 338/HR and 339/HR. Other villages on some other tail-end water channels are Chak No 316/HR, 317/HR, 319/HR, 320/HR, 321/HR, 322/HR, 323/HR, 324/HR, 325/HR, 326/HR, 327/HR, 328/HR Sharqi and Gharbi, 340/HR and Chak No 341/HR, etc. The area has three union councils with more than 30,000 voters living there, the ex-naib nazim explains the demographic details of the area.

Chuadhry Irshad says that the water channels had been upgraded the last time in 1976, and since then no plan has been made or implemented for enhancing their capacity. He says that up to Rasafa town of Tehsil Fort Abbas, canal water availability is satisfactory to some extent. But, all villages situated down the stream are facing acute water shortages.

However, an XEN of the Irrigation Department in Bahawalnagar has other reasons to relate about the shortage of water in the region. He says per acre water allowance is very less than the required quantity, and that is the root-cause of the problem. He says the canal system was installed for the first time in the region in 1927. Initially, it was a sub-division, and 1,100 cusecs of water was allocated for it. It was redesigned only after three years, in 1929-30 and then in 1987 for the last time to enhance the water quantity for the region.

The XEN says that the canal system supplying water to the region is one of the longest in the country, hence, more water losses. The original canal starts from Sulemanki Headworks at the River Satlej near the Indian border. It is called the Sadiqia Canal, which supplies water to the Hakra main canal at its tail-end. And where it ends, it again divides into two branches: Hakra Left canal and Hakra Right canal. And the Hakra Right canal ends at the village of Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa in Cholistan.

Due to high temperatures and a very long distance the canal covers, the ratio of water losses is very high, the XEN gives another reason for the short supply of water to the Marot region. He says that currently water is being released to the canal system at the rate of 3.6 cusecs per 1,000 acres, which is very less compared with the needs of the region. The official believes that at least 5.5-6.0 cusecs of water should be supplied for every 1,000 acres of land. He claims that he has sent a request to the department in this regard, which is in process at the head office after clearance from the circle office. He believes that the water shortage at the tail-end can be solved by increasing water allowance from 3.6 cusecs to 5.5 cusecs per 1,000 acres.

The XEN claims currently the water supply is being made for every two weeks with a week break, and water is reaching even the tail-ends. However, he wonders how come irrigation officials could sell the water share of tail-enders in the presence of a farmer organisation. He says the organisation has a complete monitoring setup with farmers committees at even union council level. They can lodge an FIR in case of any water theft, adds the XEN.

The Irrigation Department sub-division officer (SDO) concerned also defends the department against the corruption charges. He says that in fact the approved water capacity for the region is less than the requirement. He says that the current water allowance of 3.6 cusecs was initially allocated keeping in view 38-42 per cent per acre crop intensity. But with the passage of time, the intensity has increased and, therefore, the area needs more water.

The irrigation official suggests remodelling water channels to resolve the water shortage issue. But, he adds, funds shortage has been hindering progress of the project. He hopes the department would resolve the water shortage and related issues in the coming years, though Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa has serious doubts about it, keeping in view tall claims made with the area people in the past too.