Time to shelve the KBD

It is highly disconcerting to see the honourable members of the National Assembly waste their time and energies on a futile debate. The Kalabagh Dam (KBD) issue has been raised time and again in the past and we are now witnessing another recurrence. The parliamentarians from the PML-N and PML-Q not only raised this contentious issue again but also violated the decorum of the National Assembly. Verbal brawls and physical assaults have become a norm for parliamentarians, be they from the provincial assemblies or the Centre. These so-called ‘people’s representatives’ are demonstrating how uncultured they can be. Not only is it time to take a break from such uncouth behaviour but it is high time we put the KBD issue to rest once and for all.

There are a number of reasons for shelving the KBD project. Three provincial assemblies have passed resolutions against the dam unanimously. After the recent furore in parliament, the Sindh Assembly once again passed a resolution against the KBD. When the three federating units are not in favour of a project, Punjab should not insist on going ahead with it at the cost of the federation. Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan may not be as populous as Punjab, but that does not give the largest province the right to disdainfully trample the voice of the other three provinces. The anti-KBD stance is not without justification. There is a trust deficit between Punjab and the rest of the country when it comes to ‘sharing’ resources. Punjab has been guilty of violating the 1991 Water Accord numerous times in the past. Being an upper riparian, Punjab has usurped the rights of the lower riparian, Sindh, despite the water sharing accord. This trust deficit is hard to bridge. As it is, the 10 MAF provisional allocation of water for downstream Kotri according to the 1991 Water Accord is subject to the sleight of hand whereby the entire allocation is released during high flood season in the three summer months and not a trickle flows the rest of the year. As a result, the Indus Delta has been destroyed, causing annual losses of billions of rupees to Sindh’s economy. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would also be affected. There is a great risk of Nowshera city being flooded as well as waterlogging and salinity affecting the agricultural areas in the province. A large number of people would be displaced if the KBD is built and we have already seen how the affectees of Mangla, Tarbela and Ghazi Barotha are still running from pillar to post to be compensated for their lands. Thus there is very little chance that the affectees of KBD would ever be compensated. General Pervez Musharraf had tried his utmost to forge a consensus in favour of the KBD but that did not happen despite his assurances of constitutional guarantees. Musharraf also promised to scrap the idea of building two canals from the proposed KBD project, which were in essence going to irrigate Cholistan’s dry lands. Retired army generals who had been allocated lands in Cholistan were not happy with Musharraf’s u-turn as many of them were banking on these canals to turn their desert plots to gold. Musharraf himself owns land there.

The energy crisis is staring us in the face but we cannot allow Punjab’s vested interest in building the dam fool us into thinking that the KBD would resolve all issues. Now that it has been proved how big dams are bad for ecological, economic and human habitat reasons, we must bury the KBD project and instead focus our energies on coming up with rational alternative ways to deal with the power crisis.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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