Irrigation System of Pakistan, Present Issues and Future Options

By Muhammad Umer Karim

Pakistan at the time of independence faced lots of challenges because of poor infrastructure, lacking basic commodities of social services, but luckily its larger part had flourishing agriculture industry due to irrigation infrastructure initiated by the British Raj. In just 13 years of age this country had higher exports than Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Turkey*. The irrigation system was designed in such a way that not only Operation & Maintenance (O&M) funds were generated, but it also supported country through efficient revenue collection. In the 1970s this system started deteriorating, though it was a golden age of transition from dictatorial control to people-led government but we always confuse ourselves over translation of term democracy. In other words, the Irrigation and Revenue Department, which were meant for technical management revenue collection were used for political management. This was not new for the subcontinent, in the pre-partition era, allotment of huge agriculture lands/Jagirs were used for the same purpose. Functioning of irrigation and revenue system was designed on very simple principles; Irrigation Department was responsible for construction and O&M of irrigation system, in start it was Sukkur Barrage, a masterpiece for controlling and diverting river water, through a) barrage b) main canals c) branch canals d) distributaries and minors. Delivery of irrigation water for agriculture was designed and permitted only from distributaries and minors through water course modules (Orifice) the last unit/ control structure of this huge irrigation system. Irrigation Department was primarily responsible of diverting river water through above referred infrastructure and ensure its availability up till Farm Gate. After application of irrigation water to farmer fields, every irrigated acre was recorded by irrigation and revenue staff, and then after harvesting of crop, a meager amount of irrigation and revenue tax was recovered, irrigation tax was used for O&M, and revenue tax was used for government expenditures. The mechanism of revenue collection at the time of British rule was so efficient that, loan for construction of the Sukkur Barrage which was scheduled to be returned in 20 years, was paid back in five years, huge expansion in irrigated agriculture was also a factor. Furthermore to ensure water availability for licensed users, and to avoid impacts of engineered irrigation system, percentage of irrigated land/ cropping intensity and cropping pattern were also designated. It was a well-managed system, a retired irrigation engineer recalls it as golden era of management and control, if any farmer, no matter how influential he is, if found violating these laws, and exceeding permissible limit of cultivated area, his crop was destroyed on spot. It was the era, where revenue collection figures where used as basis of future demand of irrigation water and development planning. *World Bank Report No. 23916-PAK, Pakistan Development Policy Review, A New Dawn? April 3, 2002 Poverty Reduction
and Economic Management Sector Unit, South Asia Region

Irrigated agriculture standards are now liberalized, this led us to compromised technical controls and lack of transparency. Furthermore ambiguities in water accounting and lack of future planning has now brought this system to verge of collapse. Revenue generation from the irrigation sector has largely decreased in comparison to its O&M cost, for example in **Sindh province per year total average irrigation tax collection is Rs297.46 million and cost of establishment and O&M is Rs2161 million, it comes out to be 13 per cent cost recovery, in KPK it is 24pc, and in Punjab 20pc. Balochistan with 95pc is exceptional case, because of smallest irrigation system with lowest operating cost. The deterioration in system and its negative impacts was not a sudden incident, it was already predicted in the early 80’s by several research groups. Irrigation and Revenue Departments are now white elephants on our country’s economy, and irrigation infrastructure is in the most vulnerable stage in history, due to least transparent O&M budgets, political management through overriding hydraulic engineering principles. Apart from heavy expenditures on establishment and O&M of system, the worst part is that water use accounting is missing. According to a report averagely 102 MAF irrigation water is diverted from barrages for agriculture, 62 MAF reaches to farm gate, rest of it is wasted, misused or stolen. The irrigated agriculture in the country is in dire straits. In Irrigation system hydraulic design principles, watercourse modules (orifice) from main and branch canals was barred, simply; allowing direct outlet from the main canal can be resembled with puncturing tire of any running vehicle. These modules (moghas) used to be designed and installed by the irrigation department at Distributary or Minor level and its size was fixed in relation to the permitted water allowance and designated cropping intensity of specific area. Due to change in socio-political conditions, these both standards are bypassed. It has resulted in serious imbalance of supply and demand. In last 33 years, hundreds of direct outlet/ watercourses are sanctioned and their adverse effects are evident from indicators like; change in command cultivated areas of irrigation canals at head, middle and tail level, almost on all canals, cultivated area at head has increased, and it is decreased at middle and tail portions, in result lengths of irrigation channels are decreasing day by day. Poor tail end farmers are coercion to intervene and override another standard of channel design, i.e. excavation of channel bed, to ensure water availability with increased bed slope, ultimately adding to crop inputs cost, for pumping up of irrigation water to the farm land. In scenario of above described, the age old water resources management methods have become irrelevant/ ineffective and a new approach was called for. Globally, the countries facing similar situation have long switched over to the modern decentralized corporate paradigm of water resources management. Taking a cue from these counties and with cooperation of The World Bank, Government of Pakistan, introduced irrigation reform on experimental basis under National Drainage Programme (1997-2004), with object of gradual transformation of provincial irrigation and power departments into a ***3-Teir autonomous, corporate water resources management institutions; a) Provincial irrigation and Development Authorities (PIDAs) at Barrage Level; b) **
Irrigation Water Pricing & Its Sustainability In Pakistan, Dr. Allah Bakhsh Sufi, CE (Water Resource Planning Organization), P&D WAPDA

*** Project Appraisal Document of WSIP and PC-I of WSIP Project executed in Sindh Provnce

Area Water Boards (AWBs) at Main Canal Level; and c) Farmer Organization (FO) at the Distributary/ Minor Level, and d) Water Course Associations (WCA) at water course level, where the actual control of water distribution to the farms lies. FOs were to be the focal point of reform, to own the distributaries/ minors and would be responsible for collecting irrigation tax for O&M of Irrigation and Drainage System and support of New Water Management Institutions. Formula of Revenue Collection and Expenditures is also very simple, Cultivated Land Assessment was to be done by community at FO Level, and they were to collect the tax themselves and retain 60 pc amount for O&M of their channel, and deposit 40pc as water charges to AWB. Similarly AWB will retain same ratio for O&M of main and Branch Canals, and submit 40pc to PIDA, which will further use it for O&M of Barrages, a complete selfsustaining/ autonomous model. As compared to other provinces Sindh went extra mile and made strides in terms of irrigations reforms Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority was setup in 1998 through SIDA Act passed by Sindh Provincial Assembly followed by Creation of three Area Water Boards (Ghotki, Nara & Left Bank) on 4 Main Canals, SIDA Act has since been replaced by a more effective Sindh Water Management Ordinance 2002 (SWMO 2002). By closing of NDP in December 2004, about 300 FOs were setup, which were at that time, admittedly, in embryonic stage and were in need of extended social and financial support to become effective. Appreciating Sindh’s commitment to Irrigation Reforms, The World Bank in 2003 offered long term assistance Programme to Government of Sindh to tune of One Billion Dollars to consolidate the irrigation reforms and rehabilitate its Irrigation and Drainage System the Programme consist of several sequential projects. “Water Sector Improvement Project Phase-I” (WSIP-I) was the first link in this chain of projects. WSIP-I provide for preparation of WSIP-II. It is a well-known fact that revolution can occur in days but it’s disastrous and always doubted to succeed, “Reforms take time but sure are durable”. Several difficulties are faced due to red tapism of bureaucratic and technocratic procedures and undue interference of politicians (Ruling Elite) because they do not want ending of their monopoly on Irrigation Resources, that is endangered due to Participatory Irrigation Management, but still reforms process is on way to change old dysfunctional system. Specifically main hurdle in success of irrigation reform is absence of political will, it is quite difficult to do reform until reforms centric approach is adopted by major power lynch pins. SIDA and three AWBs are in place, transition is the core activity but not the priority, Election process of FOs is continued, but Chairmen and Board Members are still selected by Government of Sindh on political basis. Irrigation tax of almost rupees 600 million PKR is collected, but frozen by finance department, GoSindh, because it cannot be used by SIDA, until its Business plan approved that is lying in Law Department GoSindh since last 2 years, despite all these difficulties reforms process is under way, with new staff from market, and mega rehabilitation projects are successfully implemented under World Bank loans, but for how long this system will sustain if World Bank stops funding. SIDA and AWBs are authorized as autonomous bodies under SWMO 2002, but still relying on government funds and loans from World Bank.

In purview of above situation, we need to chalk out, our objectives, our strategies and work plan for sustainable livelihood of living souls of this soil. Since 1995 Millions of Dollars are invested on this reform process, and in result we have Participatory Irrigation model in shape of SIDA and AWBs, now it must move towards self-sustainability, to ensure that, we need to cater for; a) Deepening and broadening the institutional reforms in Irrigation & Drainage system of Pakistan, that is already underway in Sindh, which needs further notification of AWBs on remaining canals. b) Initiate Water Accounting Mechanism from Head to Tail through latest gadgets (MIS/GIS) with increased transparency. c) Increase revenue recovery by using latest systems (GIS) for cultivated land assessments in transparent matter. d) Proper owner ship, O&M of system through increased revenues. e) Improving the irrigation system in a systematic way covering key hydraulic infrastructure, main and branch canals, and distributaries and minors. f) Enhancing capacity of irrigation management and developing institutions for improving operation and maintenance of the system with efficient cost recovery. (ends) The writer is Irrigation & Water Management Professional