Water reservoirs face 80 percent shortage, Senate body told

Three major water storage reservoirs of the country, including Tarbela and Mangla Dams and Chashma Barrage, are currently facing 80 per cent water shortage as compared to last year, forcing water cut in provincial shares against estimated water availability. "Currently Tarbela Dam, the backbone of the country's irrigation sector is facing 78 per cent water shortage, Mangla 81 per cent and Chasma 79 per cent," said Tahir Anwar, Director General (DG) Federal Water Management Cell (FWM) of Ministry of National Food Security and Research. He was briefing the Senate Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research on situation of water availability for Rabi crop 2016-17 on Wednesday. The committee met with Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah in the chair.

He said that according to water position on January 3, the country's three major storage facilities stored 1.375 million acre feet (MAF) of water. Out of the total, Tarbela stored 0.731 MAF of water, Mangla stored 0.630 MAF and Chasma 0.0143 MAF of water, he said.

Anwar further said that because of shortage of water in the country's main reservoirs, the water share of Punjab and Sindh province has been cut by 17 per cent each. The estimated water availability for Rabi season in Punjab is 16.311 MAF against average system usage of 19.751 MAF and Sindh 12.306 MAF against average system usage of 14.912 MAF. The average system usage for Rabi season 2016-17 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is estimated at 0.701 MAF and Balochistan at 1.022 MAF, he said.

He said that irrigation water releases to the provinces during the last three Rabi seasons, including 2013-14, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, against average system usage of 36.386 MAF are reported as 32.535 MAF, 33.100 MAF and 32.898 MAF respectively. The shortage during the same period are recorded as 11 per cent, 9 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

However, he said that according to Indus River System Authority (IRSA), the available quantity of water will meet provincial requirements. A senior official of Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) while briefing the committee about agro-meteorology position in the country said that during the monsoon season (July-September 2016), the country as a whole received above 25 per cent normal rainfall. Dry conditions prevailed till December across the country and 88 per cent below than normal rainfall was recorded, he said, adding that provinces of Sindh and Balochistan remained completely dry during the aforesaid period.

He said that first winter rainfall spell occurred on January 3 and under the influence of this weather system, intermitted rain, thunderstorm and snowfall are expected over upper parts of the country on Saturday next. It would have positive impacts on Rabi crops, he said.

The official further said that in the second half of January, improved rainfall activity is likely over north Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Well distributed above normal rainfall is likely over most parts of the country during February and March, he said.

He further said that from October till December 2016, 5.63 MAF water has been received in Tarbela and 1.51 MAF water has been received in Mangla. Keeping in view the prevailing and expected meteorological conditions across the region, Tarbela is likely to receive 5 MAF and Mangala around 3.5 MAF till March 2017.

About withdrawal of cash subsidy on fertilizer sales, which was offered to the industry in the budget for fiscal year 2016-17 to provide support to farmers and the overall agricultural sector, Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R) Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan said that the amount which had been allocated in budget for fertilizer subsidy has been consumed. However, he said that the government knew its importance, therefore, thinking to revisit it.

He said that the withdrawal of subsidy on fertilizer will have no immediate impact over the prices of urea fertilizer as there is a sufficient stock of urea available in the country, while the General Sales Tax (GST) reduced by the government from 17 per cent to 5 per cent in the budget will remain intact till next budget. "Under the subsidy programme, sales tax had been reduced from 17 per cent to five per cent, which caused a reduction of Rs 184 in price of per bag of urea," he said.

The committee recommended the government to revisit the withdrawal of subsidy scheme. Bosan said that the committee needed to recommend reduction on General Sales Tax (GST) on urea and DAP and end of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) on fertilisers in order to reduce cost of production. "There will be no need of subsidy if the taxes on fertilizer are reduced and the GIDC is abolished," he said.

A senior official said that the price of urea fertilizer is high due to imposition of a number of taxes including GST at the rate of 17 per cent and GIDC. The overall tax quantum of GST was Rs 32.05 billion and GIDC was Rs 41.04 billion, it said.

Chairman Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Dr Yusuf Zafar informed the meeting that PARC is preparing a project of Rs 2.2 billion for improving production of pulses in the country. "PARC will involve all provinces in this project and the government is likely to include it in the PSDP of the upcoming budget," he said. Senator Muhammad Mohsin Khan Leghari, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan Dhandla, Hamza, Brigadier (Retd) John Kenneth Williams and Muhammad Azam Khan Swati were present in the meeting.