Water pricing

The incumbent government which is on the way-out intends to get a water pricing policy approved from the Council of Common Interest (CCI) by taking the provinces on board. The draft of new water policy may be tabled in the upcoming meeting of the CCI If it is approved water may be priced for the production sectors of the economy. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is insisting the government to price the water in the dams’ storages. Agreeing to the proposal of the lending agency, the federal government intends that water at delivery points shall be priced rationally according to the general principle of productive sectors of the economy, which would realize the full recovery cost. For social usage, the concept of affordability will be applied and for ecological needs water supply shall be free.

Implementation of water pricing policy, while ignoring the conservation and augmentation of water resources will be counter productive. It is no longer a secret that farmers with subsistence land holdings did not get enough water for irrigation of standing crops and the feudal class in Punjab and Sindh waste enormous amount of water with excessive inflow in the fish farms and outflow from them. Water pricing formula handed down by the global lending agency, if implemented , will hit hard the farmers as the prices of agriculture inputs like high yield varieties of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides are very high. The increase in water charges will be a proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. It will further depress the productivity of agriculture sector the growth of which is less than 2 percent whereas it was 6 percent in the era of President Ayub Khan. The proposed pricing mechanism without a clear and long term conservation framework will cost an additional burden on the shoulders of common man. The ADB water pricing recipe is not truly intended to conserve water resources but to ensure the recovery of its loans misappropriated by the ruling elite with the connivance of international lending agencies.

The PML-N in all three tenures of its government did not allocate funds for the construction of storage dams and conservation of available water resources flowing through canals and irrigation channels. Total focus was on the construction of motorways and highly subsidized Metro Bus Services. The deliberate neglect of construction of storage dams result in the annual loss of water resources worth $ 12 billion. The major reason of the water crisis is the lack of allocation of funds in the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP).  As a result there has been no increase in the cropped area in the past three decades. The intended PSDP of Rs. 800 billion for the next fiscal year provide little room for starting work on the much delayed Diamer Bash dam project.

Mangla and Tarbella dams’ reservoirs have reached the dead level in spring season which is unprecedented over the past 15 years. The current level of water at Mangla dam is 1050 feet which is dead level. The inflow of water into the dam’s reservoir is 12,225 cusecs and outflow is 13,401 cusecs. Similarly, the Tarbell dam current water level is 1,386 feet which is a dead level. The experts claim that availability of water is decreasing at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, Pakistan Meteorological Department has predicted that the rainfall will be below the normal in the months of April and May.

The data of public expenditure on water sector reveal that during Musharaff regime, Rs. 70 billion were used to be allocated every year for the conservation and augmentation of water resources. The allocations went down to Rs. 50 billion in the previous PPP government. During the present PML-N government it further dropped to Rs. 36.7 billion which amounts to 3.7 percent of the federal budget. It is the lowest allocation of funds for water sector in a country confronted with water crisis. The new water policy recommends increasing of funds allocation to 10 percent of the federal PSDP, which is not reflected in the one prepared for the next fiscal year. Short term solution lies in effective conservation strategies and the long term solution will be provided by the construction of dam storages of Kalbagh, Diamer Basha, Kurram Tnagi and Monda.

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