Punjab irrigation M&R backlog reaches Rs600 billion

  • System faces major sustainability challenges of serious environmental, social and economic implications


LAHORE: The updated financial backlog of Punjab irrigation department’s deferred maintenance and repair (M&R) has turned up to Rs568.847 billion, knocking off the department with a major upset for the upcoming budget exercise, sources privy to the irrigation department revealed.

Providing comprehensive data to Pakistan Today, sources told that “lower than required” spending on the M&R resulted in the backlog of the system’s deferred maintenance. At the same time, they said, the irrigation bureaucracy has grown over time and currently, the Punjab Irrigation Department (PID) has over 40,000 employees, the costs of whom account for over 60 percent of the annual PID budget.

They said that over 90 percent of Punjab’s agricultural output comes from irrigated lands that now are facing major sustainability challenges owing to serious environmental, social and economic implications.

The colossal irrigation conveyance network in Punjab is serving 21 million acres of the cultivable command area (CCA) in 24 canal commands. The systems’ integrity, however, deteriorated irrigation and drainage infrastructure and large M&R deficits have led to sub-optimal service delivery levels characterised by low water conveyance efficiencies and inequitable water deliveries. This indicates huge investment needs to address the deferred rehabilitation and maintenance backlogs that have now reached up to an estimated Rs568.8474 billion, they added.

The data shows that development in the sector consequently needs to embed cost-effective rehabilitation and modernisation of the infrastructure with holistic reforms that aim to improve management and service delivery levels.

According to the Annual Development Programme (ADP) 2017-18, the irrigation sector’s total outlay for the year 2017-18 was planned to be Rs41.031 billion. This allocation shows no increase from that of the ADP 2016-17.

The ADP included 173 schemes as part of the MTDF 2017-18, they said while adding that 96 of the schemes were ongoing and 77 were marked as new schemes targeted to be executed during 2017-18. While Rs28.3 billion was allocated for the ongoing schemes and Rs12.731 billion for the new schemes, ADP 2017-18 claims that 45 ongoing schemes have been completed along with 24 new schemes.

Documents show that the irrigated lands that generate a majority of the province’s agricultural output cover an area of 14.8 million hectares of which 11.7 million hectares receive surface irrigation from the public system. The rest of the land relies on groundwater.

The basic maintenance and repair of the public surface irrigation system require an annual expenditure of approximately Rs21.953billion out of which only Rs7.683 million was provided in the fiscal year 2016.

Lack of adequate maintenance, poor operating procedures, and rent-seeking actions have resulted in unreliable and inequitable surface water deliveries, low water use efficiency (35-40 percent), and poor water productivity (approximately 60 percent and 90 percent lower than in India and China respectively when measured in GDP per unit of water).

Abiana – the area-based flat charge for surface water supplies – should be the major source of finance for the M&R, but at the current rate (Rs85/acre for Kharif crops and Rs50/acre for Rabi crops) can only yield about Rs2.195 billion each year.

While all documents including the annual development plans of every year do mention the importance of improving the M&R and claiming system management operations to increase water efficiency, proper execution would require actions including those against complex matters such as illegal extractions from canals and the tampering of watercourse-level outlets.