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#3191, 15 July 2010
Indus Waters Governance-I: Crisis of Institutions
D Suba Chandran
Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi
email: subachandran@gmail.com

One of the primary problems in sharing waters has been the failure of institutions, especially those which are responsible for water governance in South Asia. Regarding the sharing of Indus Waters, besides the Indus Waters Commissions in India and Pakistan, within Pakistan, two institutions/organizations responsible for effective water governance include the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and the Indus River Authority System (IRSA).

The ongoing crisis within the IRSA in Pakistan over the opening (and closure) of Chashma-Jhelum link canal, highlights the problem of institutions that govern water sharing. The IRSA is primarily a five member body, with four representatives - each representing Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP, and the fifth representative nominated by the federal government. For the last few months, IRSA has been witnessing numerous dramas in terms of its functioning.

Consider the following events since January 2010 in the IRSA. In early February a meeting was convened to discuss Punjab’s water drawing in December 2009. Punjab requested opening the Chashma-Jhelum link canal and for allowing it to draw more water. This meeting was a disaster; Punjab’s member of the IRSA walked out, as other representatives from Sindh, Balochistan and the federation (who also belong to Sindh) opposed the former’s proposal. Instead, Sindh wanted that Punjab should first compensate for the additional water it drew in December 2009. Subsequently, when the IRSA decided with a majority vote (with Punjab, Balochistan and NWFP) against that of Sindh and the federal member, to accede to Punjab’s demand, the IRSA member from Sindh reported that his province would withdraw from the IRSA. Balochistan, on the other hand withdrew its member to the IRSA, for voting along with Punjab.

The issue within the IRSA heated up again during May-July, mainly between Punjab and Sindh. In May 2010, the government of Punjab asked its representative not to attend the IRSA meeting, accusing the IRSA and Sindh for engaging in fudging the actual figures and politicizing the issue. In June 2010, the Chairman of IRSA – Aman Gul Khattak (from NWFP) resigned the post, as he could not convince the members to reach any understanding in terms of water sharing, especially the opening of CJ Canal.

In early July, the acting Chairman of the IRSA (who belongs to Punjab) unilaterally allowed the opening of CJ Canal. Members from Sindh and Balochistan resigned from the IRSA, following the unanimous decision of the acting Chairman. The federal member of the IRSA (who belongs to Sindh) also resigned.

Where does the problem lie? Why cannot the IRSA perform its duties, after all, it was agreed upon by all the four provinces to work together, following the Water Apportionment Agreement in 1991? The following three issues constitute the primary problem and detract the IRSA from being an effective organization.

Politicization of IRSA members
Though the members of the IRSA are appointed by the respective provinces, they are qualified engineers and are expected to work together efficiently in water sharing according to the 1991 agreement. Unfortunately, the provincial politics and differences creep into the functioning of the IRSA. Especially, if there are different political parties at the federal and provincial levels, the political understanding plays an important role in the performance of the IRSA.

Today, though a coalition partner at the federal level, PML-N sees itself as an opposition vis-à-vis the PPP. The fact that the PML-N and PPP are leading the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Sindh respectively, also play an important role in hindering the IRSA from delivering on its duties.

Corruption in IRSA and WAPDA
The engineers at the local level, who are supposed to supervise the telemetry system, are considered highly corrupt. The telemetry installed during Musharraf’s period with a huge cost, is purposefully allowed to rot, as the engineers are bribed by local feudal lords to ensure the system does not work. The telemetry system is supposed to provide actual information and data on water distribution. Sindh considers this as a deliberate ploy, leading to water theft.

One of the greatest failures of IRSA and WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) is relating to governance. Today, both the institutions are considered as inefficient, corrupt and biased. WAPDA is seen as more corrupt, while the IRSA as more biased.

Differences between Upper and Lower Riparian and the Ganging Up
Differences between upper and lower riparian regions are nothing new in sharing of the waters. This is a universal problem, which one could witness in the neighbouring region and at the global level. What makes the situation unique in Pakistan, in the context of IRSA, is the ganging up of smaller provinces, which also happen to be the lower riparian. Perceptions, rather than facts, determine any proposal or idea to share the waters.

IRSA will remain ineffective, as long as its members are politicized and marred by bad governance. The case of WAPDA is slightly different, but again highlights the problems of institutions that deal with water sharing. An effort to strengthen water sharing should focus on strengthening the administrative, legal and political institutions/organizations/structures of waters.

(This is a part of a series on Indus Waters Governance; forthcoming articles will focus on issues relating to Chashma-Jhelum canal, Greater Thal controversy and Kalabagh dam)

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