Cabinet okays raising water charges to strengthen irrigation infrastructure

By Our Correspondent
February 21, 2024

The Sindh caretaker cabinet on Tuesday made some key decisions, such as increasing the rates of Abiana and water charges, surveying unsurveyed land, rewriting the record of rights, and agreeing that the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) land can be used for industrial purposes by the federal government.

Caretaker Sindh Chief Minister Justice (Retd) Maqbool Baqar presides over a cabinet meeting at CM House on February 20, 2024. — Facebook/Sindh Chief Minister House

Chaired by interim chief minister Justice (retd) Maqbool Baqar, the advisory group’s meeting agreed that the PSM land can be used by the Centre for establishing an export processing zone.

However, the cabinet clarified, the condition is that the land must be used only for industrial purposes. During 1973-74, the then provincial government had granted land to the PSM, which at present is using/controlling 13,344.34 acres.

Caretaker irrigation minister Ishwar Lal said that the Abiana (tax for using irrigation water) and water supply rates need to be gradually increased to meet the maintenance & repair (M&R) requirement of the irrigation infrastructure.

The Abiana / water charges recovery is much less than the M&R expenditure for several reasons, such as the Abiana/water rates are very much on the lower side, and were last revised in 1999.

The average annual Abiana collection is Rs528.45 million against the average annual M&R expenditure of Rs4.46477 billion. According to the irrigation department’s 2014 study, the average annual M&R requirement is Rs11.353 billion.

Drawing a comparison between Sindh’s and Punjab’s rates, Irrigation Secretary Niaz Abbasi said Sindh collected Abiana for wheat at Rs53.3 per acre in 1999, 2021 and 2024, while Punjab collected Rs150 in 2021 and Rs400 in 2024.

The cabinet was told that the rate of Sindh for cotton remains at Rs93.09 per acre, while Punjab’s rate was Rs250 in 2021, and it is Rs1,000 in 2024. The meeting approved an increase in the Abiana rate for crops and water charges for municipal/domestic, industrial and commercial uses by 100 per cent.

The current rate for Abiana is Rs53 (riverine water) and Rs363 (tube well and lift machine) per acre, and it will be increased to Rs106 and Rs726 per acre respectively. The water rate for municipal/domestic uses is Rs0.50 per 1,000 gallons, and the new rate will be Rs4 per 1,000 gallons.

The cabinet was also told that a survey would be started in each district, for which 32 teams are being formed that would comprise a revenue surveyor, six Tapedars and an inspector of revenue and city surveys.

Every survey team will be equipped with a differential global positioning system and other allied accessories, as well as an operator. At the end of the day, the work done by the field survey teams will be sent in soft format to the lab.

The lab is to be established at the directorate, which will process data and prepare the land records, which will then be sent to the deputy commissioner concerned and the estate Mukhtiarkar for authentication.

The meeting was also told that due to the influx of rural population to urban areas, a sufficient number of towns require to be surveyed for the extension of the existing survey or for a new survey.

City survey operations are proposed to be conducted at divisional, district and Taluka headquarters (153 in total) to prepare the necessary record of rights of the residents, and to also keep proper account of government lands.

The scope of rewriting includes special revision of old land records through online portals. Interim revenue minister Younus Dagha said that rewriting committees will be constituted for the record of rights, while verification committees will also be formed.

The cabinet approved the plan and its budget of Rs2.92219 billion, but Baqar said that during the current financial year, 10 per cent of the total amount would be released, while the remaining would be allocated in the next budget accordingly.

The advisory group also approved an amendment to the Sindh Registration Rules, 1940, to pave the way for the recruitment of sub-registrars through the Sindh Public Service Commission (SPSC).

Fifty per cent of the sub-registrars are appointed through promotion from senior clerks after passing the departmental examination, and 50 per cent through initial appointment. The departmental examination is conducted internally by the registration inspector general.

Senior Member Board of Revenue Zahid Abbasi said that to meet the requirement of e-registration and improve efficiency, the department proposes amendments to the registration rules regarding initial appointment, departmental examination, and training of sub-registrars. According to the amendment, the initial appointment and departmental examination of sub-registrars would be conducted through the SPSC.

Caretaker education minister Dr Rana Hussain said the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) has 2,723 educational institutions, where 890,000 students are enrolled. To meet the demand for their textbooks, the Sindh Textbook Board has worked out and demanded Rs964 million in the current year.

Education Secretary Shireen Narejo requested the cabinet to grant an additional Rs500 million for providing textbooks, and Rs140 million for paying board examination fees as applicable on the SEF schools during the current financial year 2023-24, then to make it part of the regular budget starting next financial year. The cabinet approved the funds.

Interim health minister Dr Saad Niaz said the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases has requested Rs628.311 million to purchase an MRI machine. After a discussion, the cabinet approved the funds and ordered their release.