The Provincial Assembly of Punjab in Pakistan passed a resolution in October 2010 recommending the federal government to build the controversial Kalabagh dam. According to the resolution, tabled by Chaudhry Zaheeruddin, the Leader of Opposition, “This house (Provincial Assembly of Punjab) recommends to the federal government that as experts say that the Kalabagh dam is feasible and beneficial for entire Pakistan, therefore, it should start its efforts for developing a consensus among all the four provinces for its earliest construction.” (Dawn, 6 October 2010)
There have been numerous other resolutions passed by the Provincial Assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP in Pakistan, relating to the sharing of Indus Waters. In India, the J&K Legislative Assembly has passed a resolution demanding the scrapping of the Indus Waters Treaty signed between India and Pakistan. While every provincial legislative assembly has the right to protect its own interest and pass resolutions, will such an approach lead to resolving the water crisis between the various stakeholders and improve the water governance? Or should there be a political consensus, following a societal consensus on sharing waters amongst the stakeholders?
While the above mentioned resolution is related to the construction of Kalabagh dam, the problem is actually relating to the sharing of Indus waters between various provinces within Pakistan. Construction of Kalabagh dam and its opposition is only an expression of a deeper misunderstanding.
The Provincial Assembly of Sindh, since 1994 has passed a series of resolutions against the construction of Kalabagh dam and the Greater Thal Canal. The latest was during June 2010, when all the members of the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed a unanimous resolution, rejecting the construction of the Kalabagh dam. When the resolution was about to be tabled by one of its ministers in the Provincial Assembly, the MQM suggested that it should be moved by every member present in the house,(Daily Times, 17 June 2010) including the PPP, MQM and PML-F, thus projecting a common stand cutting across the party lines.
The unanimous resolution in Sindh Provincial Assembly against the construction of Kalabagh dam, followed an acrimonious debate in the national parliament, where a suggestion to construct the dam was opposed by members from the smaller provinces. (Dawn, 16 June 2010) While the PML-N and PML-Q in the Parliament, cutting across their party lines, came together in demanding the construction of the dam, PPP, ANP and MQM came together against the dam, cutting across both provincial and party lines. In fact, the pro-dam section consider the opposition to the project as being “anti-national”, those who oppose the dam consider the project as the negation of democracy and federal structure of the country.
Within India, in 2002, there was a heated debate in the J&K Legislative Assembly on the Indus Waters Treaty; cutting across the partly lines, the members called for the scrapping of the treaty. Tarigami, a CPM legislator, was quoted saying, “We are suffering because of Pakistan's water needs. Fine, compensate us for what we have lost. And if you cannot do that, review the situation. After all, people make laws.” (Praveen Swami, “A Treaty Questioned,” Frontline, 10 May 2002)
Undoubtedly, Legislative Assemblies and Parliaments are ideal forums to discuss issues of importance; every legislature has the right to pass acts and resolutions. Especially, if there is unanimity within the legislature, such an initiative and its outcome should be considered as of high importance and utility. But on the water issue, is it prudent to pursue such a course of action?
While the legislatures are legally correct in pursing such an option, it would be useful to generate a debate at the societal level and reach a political consensus outside the Provincial Assemblies and Parliaments. Legislative resolutions, passed without political consensus create a negative impact at the societal levels; it also encourages the hard liners to use such resolutions to create hysteria, thereby undermining any political consensus. In terms of sharing waters or building dams, a legislative resolution, even in advisory nature is perceived as a legal document, with negative consequences.
It would be useful and prudent to avoid water debates in the legislatures. Instead the various stakeholders should be allowed to meet at the Track-II level, between the provinces and between states. (See “Indus Waters Governance V: One River, Three Dialogues,”) It is imperative to create a societal consensus outside the legislature; given the vertical divide on provincial lines within the legislatures on water issues, such a course will only complicate the problem.
On water issues, the legislatures should attempt to build a consensus outside, and pass a resolution based on it, instead of moving a resolution first and trying to create a consensus for the same.