LAHORE - The Punjab government is all set to sell irrigation water to a big fertilizer group in RY Khan, an area facing severe shortage of water, The Nation has learnt.

The Punjab chief minister has approved a summary forwarded by the Irrigation Department. Water experts and farmers decry such move, calling it usurpation of the farming community’s rights and a conspiracy of the wealthy water buyers at the cost of the economy.

The Irrigation Department has prepared an initial draft for a 10-year agreement between the Punjab government and the said fertilizer company. The company, if the agreement is duly signed, would pay Rs 100 million that will be used for rehabilitation of the canal and construction of the hospital. As per the provisions of the agreement, the company will deposit Rs 300 million for the construction of a hospital in this area.

Fatima Fertilizer Company Limited had applied for regular supply of 10 cusecs of water from Tibbi Minor of Abbasia Link Canal System for filling of the tanks situated at Mukhtargarh, tehsil Sadiqabad of district Rahim Yar Khan. The water quantity is to be increased after the approval of the superintending engineer concerned.

Initially, the company will purchase canal water and bear the cost of remodeling and lining of Tibbi Minor amounting to Rs 100 million to enhance its capacity from 35 cusecs to 47 cusecs.

As per the CM’s approval, the price to be charged from the company would be two times higher than the government’s non-irrigation rates for the first year and five times higher for the seventh year and thereafter.

For the execution of this agreement, gauges shall be installed in the tanks to measure the discharge of the water into the tanks. Only one tank will be filled at one time and no water will be withdrawn from these tanks during the course of filling.

Advance payment will be made by the company on demand from the Irrigation Department. The demand will be supported by adjusted bills for the quantities supplied. If payment is not so made, the superintending engineer may refuse to allow any further supply of water from the tanks until payment is cleared. If the amount so paid in advance exceeds the price of the amount of water, it will be adjusted later.

The Punjab government will adopt all possible measures to stop failure of the water supply, but will in no circumstances be responsible for any such failure.

Moreover, the agreement proposes that if the water discharged into a tank is used by the factory for any purpose other than that permitted or is sold at the rate higher than that charged by the government, the superintending engineer, Canal Circle, Rahim Yam Khan, may, at his discretion and without any notice, cancel this agreement forthwith.

To prevent tampering with the supply, the Irrigation Department will provide to the masonry outlet a locking device and have its key. The SE will take decision in case of any ambiguity and his decision will be final and binding.

Agri Forum Chairman Dr Ibrahim Mughal, called the agreement illegal and against the spirit of the Canal Act. He said that no authority could cut the fixed water allowed for any distributory or farming community. If any government functionary does so, his act would be challenged in a court of law, being violation of the established rights of people. The agreement, if executed, will open a new Pandora box for demands by other factories, thus causing loss to the farming community already facing water shortage. He said canal water was meant for crops, gardens, vegetables, livestock and fish farms only while its use otherwise would be a potential peril. Such an agreement should be decommissioned, he urged the government. He alleged that, during the previous regime, the same fertilizer giant had purchased a big company, Pak Arab Fertilizer, Multan, and the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had allowed gas supply to it at a lower rate. He questioned why governments claimed that agriculture sector was a backbone of the national economy why it was being devastated through such shameful agreements. The rulers should construct new dams instead of selling the existing river water.

Another water expert and farmer called the agreement an irony of fate. He urged the people to demonstrate against the grabbing of rich fertile lands for housing schemes. He said there was a need to construct new reservoirs, but the democratic government had started selling the existing resources to the mighty industrialists. “To me, the canal water is for irrigation and not for sale. I’d rather keep growing crops and would not make much money out of it,” he said.