Funding Chashma lift project

Funding the Chashma lift project

By Tahir Ali

(Dawn, 12 July, 2010)

THE Chashma Right Bank Canal lift project will be further delayed for want of required funds which have not been provided in this year’s federal budget.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Irrigation Pervez Khatak says the provincial government is actively pursuing the project, and hopes that it will be approved by the central development working party and the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council soon. But there are fears that funds for the project may not be released easily due to the federal government’s reluctance.

On February 22, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had promised that the Rs62 billion project would be formally inaugurated by mid-March. But it has not happened.

Under the mega project, irrigation water from a feeder canal of the Chashma barrage will be pumped into the main canal by a 64 feet lift.

It seems that the prime minister had approved the project as a goodwill gesture but after the seventh National Finance Commission Award, the cash-starved federal government is trying to delay approval of the project.

The CDWP has agreed to the project in principle but it has formed a committee to consider its financial and technical aspects. Officials say the committee report will be sent for final decision to the ECNEC.

“The project was cleared by a technical committee of the engineers headed by former Wapda chairman Shamus-ul-Mulk in the past. There is no need to do so again. I am afraid the federal government is not ready to finance the project, hence the formation of the committee,” an official said.

Haji Adeel, former finance minister Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, says the centre has to release the project funds as the prime minister has approved the project. “The parliamentarians from K-P will have to collectively pursue the vital project to get the funds as early as possible,” he said.

The project has been a part of the public sector development programme (PSDP) since 2005, but required funds to start the development work were not released. In this year’s PSDP, Rs400 million has been set aside for the project.

According to Adeel, time is of essence. “The delay has already increased the cost of the project from Rs25 billion in 2005 when it was first approved, to Rs62 billion of late. Any further delay would escalate the cost beyond affordability,” he added.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti thinks the project will bring about a green revolution in the province and needs to be expedited.

An official at the K-Pakhtunkhwa’s CM secretariat says the project had been excluded from the PSDP this year initially but a strong intervention by Chief Minister Hoti revived it once again. He hopes the project, which initially was to be completed in three years, will be completed in next five years.

The importance of the project cannot be over-emphasised. The project originally comprised three lifts. If all the three lifts are completed, the CRBC will irrigate over one million acres in all. “The revised PC-1 envisages irrigation of around 0.3 million acres. The project will ensure food autarky in the province,” argued the official.

Only 30 per cent of the available land in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is tilled. To meet the growing food needs, it must increase acreage which is impossible without irrigation water. It has not been able to fully utilise the available water. Out of 25 million acres, the irrigated land is only 2.27MA while around 4.4MA still awaits irrigation facility.

“K-Pakhtunkhwa has limited irrigation infrastructure. It utilises only 5.5 out of the allotted 8.78 million acres feet water of its share in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991, and about 3.28MAF water of its share flows down to other provinces. This necessitates construction of the CRBC,” said another official.

With the federal government ignoring its commitments, the question arises what is the way out. Should the provincial government arrange finances for the project on its own?

With K-Pakhtunkhwa’s net receivables almost doubled due to seventh NFC Award, it may take the first bold step and allocate funds for the vital project and seek foreign funding. The provincial government may chalk out a strategy for the purpose in collaboration with the federal government.


About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

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