By Saleem Shaikh
THE cash-strapped Sindh government has not been able to fully restore damaged irrigation network despite passage of almost six months since the devastating floods hit the province last year.
Irrigation experts are worried that if the damaged river embankments are not rehabilitated and breaches plugged before the coming monsoon season in June, the problem may worsen.
The federal government has agreed to release Rs2.5 billion on an urgent basis.
A senior official in the provincial irrigation department, meanwhile, told this scribe that the Sindh government had released a sum of Rs2 billion from its own resources to re-start the rehabilitation work. The work would gear up once the promised funds start flowing in from the federal government.
The provincial irrigation secretary Rafique Memon said that he had already told the meeting of the Federal Ministry for Inter-provincial Coordination held in Islamabad few weeks back that Sindh urgently needed Rs8 billion for repairing river dykes.
He warned of far-reaching implications on the province’s agricultural economy, if the required funds were not released before mid-February.
Irrigation officials said the Sindh government was now waiting for immediate release of Rs5 billion for rehabilitation of dykes and canals to their original shape for its Kharif sowing.
If the provincial government will not manage the daunting task of rehabilitation in a short span of three months, the Kharif sowing that starts from April 15, will suffer.
“The Sindh government is very much aware of the dangers the broken river dykes and breaches pose to the provincial economy, but it is handicapped by the financial constraints,” said a senior official in the department.
After approval of the Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP), the provincial government had submitted 76 schemes worth Rs16 billion to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) for its approval. But, only Rs14 billion were approved in the CDWP meeting held on January 22 for implementation of 64 schemes of urgent nature.
After the modus operandi for the release of the funds was being considered by the ECNEC, the federal government announced on February 2 to give Rs5 billion for priority projects .
Officials in the provincial irrigation department said that undue delay in the release of the approved amount of Rs5 billion was further delaying the rehabilitation work.
Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said Tori Bund and Kot Almo breaches were not plugged with conventional irrigation department methods. These were plugged initially on emergency basis by stone-dumping to halt floodwater flow from there.
He also said that these breaches were still open and efforts were yet to be made to plug them properly. But it was not possible until the centre released the approved funds.
According to reports quoting official sources, around 1,946 breaches out of a total of 2,515 that occurred in different waterways, had been plugged at a cost of Rs1 billion.
Irrigation expert Idris Rajput said that floodwater enters Sindh in June. Therefore, rehabilitation of dykes and plugging of breaches should be completed before it, or else, the province would face yet another devastation.
The provincial chief minister has issued orders to the irrigation department to immediately kick off the strengthening of all damaged embankments and plugging of breaches by May this year. For, which he has released Rs2 billion from province’s own resources.
Irrigation experts doubt whether the hefty amount of Rs5 billion, released in installments by the centre to the provincial government, would be utilised efficiently and in a transparent manner.
“There is also a deep suspicion in the federal government about the Sindh government’s inability to efficiently utilise Rs5 billion before May this year for the quality rehabilitation work,” said Fazullah Qureshi, a former federal secretary planning and development.
Conceding to such doubts, he said that spending such a huge amount in a span of just three months was really a great challenge for the irrigation department in view of lack of capacity and efficiency.
He suggested: “If the government wants to restore the irrigation network in such a short span of time with transparent utilisation of funds following release of more funds by the federation, then it should first start plugging all breaches immediately and simultaneously, launch dykes repairing and strengthening work on them.”
He said that the government’s top priority should be quality work on the damaged irrigation network, with focus on monitoring of the rehabilitation work. Otherwise, the next possible flood would sweep away the irrigation system again and cause more massive damages than it caused last year.