While Sindh often faces critical shortage of irrigation water, rehabilitation of distributaries continues to move at a slow pace in the targeted areas of three Area Water Boards.
So far, only 24 distributaries have been completed under Water Sector Improvement Project (Wisp).
Another 25 would be rehabilitated by the end of the current month. Project authorities aim to complete 92 such projects by April at the latest when water is to be made available for Kharif season.
The Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida), which is responsible for the project, is pursuing a participatory programme for empowerment of farmers. Organisations of farmers are supposed to collect abiyana (water charges) from their community.
These growers are registered with farmers’ organisations (FOs) in different command areas of canals. Farmers are happy in areas where banks of distributaries, contours, paths and bridges have been rehabilitated.
SIDA’s officials, especially those associated with Wisp, and representatives of FOs agree that the recovery of abiyana is not impressive. The FOs deposit 60 per cent of revenue in government’s kitty and remaining 40 per cent is kept by FOs to take care of their expenses for office and operation/maintenance of distributaries.
“We are happy with the work done in our minor’s command area. But the revenue collection is not that impressive though we have been collecting abiyana for last eight years.
This has to improve now”, says Nabi Bux, Chairman FO Bhan minor which emanates from Naukot branch of Mithrao canal in the Nara canal system, Mirpurkhas division.
His minor’s rehabilitation work is complete and 300 to 400 landlords benefit from it. Thirteen reduced distances (RDs) of minor with eight watercourses have been rehabilitated.
Under Sida there are three Area Water Boards (AWBs) which, like FOs, are supposed to be headed by elected chairmen.
However, currently none of them is elected. This makes their performance a little questionable given trends of local politics.
They are nominated by the government and desired results are not achieved due to political interference.
Elections of AWBs are expected next year. Project officials concede that chairmen are not elected as per requirement but maintain it is the result of gradual transition. Sida’s general manager (transition) Nazeer Essani attributes poor collection of revenue to a negative attitude towards tax payment.
“And when it comes to rural areas, tax collection becomes more difficult. We recover only 50 to 60 per cent of revenue target.
Ever-since SIDA’s establishment, we are able to collect Rs600 million or so”, he argues.
Essani says that revenue department, which used to have much better resources, also failed to meet the revenue target.
However, water availability has improved in distributaries going by delivery performance ratio (DPR).
“We are close to achieving ideal target of DPR value of 1.0 as far as water supply to tail-end reaches is concerned. The ratio helps determine the quantum of water made available at the source and the quantum of water reaching tail-end areas.
“We have been achieving 0 .8 to 0.9 value and soon we will be achieving the DPR’s benchmark value of 1.0”, he adds.
Some experts and farmers’ leaders believe that Sida has not been able to ensure water-availability in the tail-end reaches.
“Sida is an unnatural baby and it needs to be wound up”, claims Idris Rajput, an irrigation expert and former secretary, irrigation. He says World Bank is extending loan but revenue collection remains pathetically below par.
The FOs have failed to achieve the level of revenue that was achieved by Sindh government’s revenue department in the past.
However, the relevant officials believe that the system is to improve gradually because transition is yet to complete.
The FOs’ budget utilisation is subjected to scrutiny because AWBs are represented in it by social mobiliser, agriculture and industrial experts and academicians to make it a broad-based body.
All these things put together will make the whole transition process sustainable. This sustainability in the process would ultimately benefit FOs once they begin to take over distributaries, minors and canals through Irrigation and Drainage
Management Transfer Agreements (IDMTA).
Thus, effective operation and maintenance of system and improvements in collection of abiyana will be ensured.
According to a farmers’ leader, there is no doubt that the irrigation system throughout Sindh needs rehabilitation.
Farmers are generally not conversant with the decision making process and formalities are completed only through paperwork.
“What is so special if SIDA is doing it only on the left bank area of Indus with foreign funding?” argues Mehmood Nawaz Shah of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB).
Sindh needs a comprehensive operation and maintenance system to protect the existing irrigation system.
Farmers are totally dependent on pumping machines in areas which were known for gravitational flows in water channels.
“What about rehabilitation of areas that don’t fall under SIDA’s administrative limits?” asks Shah.