A crisis in the making

The decision to provide the Thar Coal Project with water from local canals is a cause of distress for farming communities

A crisis in the making

The proposed Makhi-Farsh Link Canal Project is being seen as threat to the two most underdeveloped districts of Sindh i.e., Umerkot and Tharparkar. This $67 million scheme aims to provide water to the power plants on Thar coalfields. Farsh Mori in Umerkot’s Dhoronaro tehsil – at the tail end of Nara Canal - is the starting point of this 185-kilometre stream ending at the Vejihar village in Tharparkar’s Islamkot tehsil.

In the first phase of this project, a 70-kilometre concrete-lined canal is to be constructed between Farsh Mori and Nabisar. Damming and distillation of water is to be carried out at Nabisar. From Nabisar dams, water is to be carried to Vejihar village through a 60-kilometre pipeline. The Vejihar lake is to provide water to the power plants in Thar Coalfields through another 55-kilometres pipeline.

The project is acceptable to the community only if canal water is made available to the locals, not just supplied to the power plants. The project will have socioeconomic and environmental impacts on the communities along its route.

Seven canals/ distributaries, namely Thar Wah, Dhoronaro Shaakh, Sufi Shaakh, Sirari Shaakh, Heeral Shaakh, Disti Shaakh and Dhoro Puran are fed from Makhi Farsh Division, which receives water from Chotiari Dam. They hardly carry water enough to provide to the farming communities they serve. Once a new canal is taken out, the farmers fear, their share of water will dwindle.

There is a water allocation system in place for the seven canals/ minors of the Makhi Farsh Division. Thar Wah, Dhoronaro Shaakh and Sufi Shaakh are provided water twice a month [after every 15 days]. Safari Shaakh, Heeral Shaakh and Disti, are provided with water for 15 days a month. The Dhoro Puran is a perennial drain that also carries rain water.

For some time now the allocation of water has changed due to a shortage of water in Nara Canal. According to the new schedule, three canals, i.e., Thar Wah, Dhoronaro Shaakh and Sufi Shaakh, are supplied water for the first seven days of a month. The other three canals, i.e., Safari Shaakh, Heeral Shaakh and Disti, get water for the next seven days. For the rest of month there is no water.

The strategy seems acceptable only if canal water is made available for the community, not just the Thar Coal Project’s power plants

The current allocation of Makhi Farsh Division wherefrom the proposed canal is to be taken out is 1,200 cusecs. It is currently receiving only 600 cusecs. Farmers fear that the project will further curtail their share of water.

Five villages of Umerkot district, Nabisar, Allah Bachayo Mallah, Haji Ismail Mehar, Cheelband and Ranawaah, which jointly have a population of more than 30,000, are in Makhi-Farsh canal command area. These villages are along the proposed project route. More than 90 per cent of the population is associated with agriculture. They fear that their lands may turn barren as a result of being denied canal water.

Five villages in Tharparkar district share the same fate. These are Peeho Bheel, Jhanjhiar, Dallan Jo Tarr, Acharry Jo Tarr and Vejihar. These villages have never had enough surface water and the population is entirely dependent on rain and ground water. The grazing grounds of these villages are already being used for laying pipelines. The famers say they have not been paid any compensation.

The other significant issue is seepage. The farmers fear that lands around Nabisar Dam, which has a capacity of 5.71 million m³, will be waterlogged, salinised and become barren. The Vejihar Dam is to have a capacity of 3.53 million m³. Around 150 households living along the proposed dam site will be displaced.

The canal route from Farsh Mori to Nabisar is the same as the natural route of an outfall drain [Dhoro Puran] that flows from Farsh Mori in Umerkot and ends at Shakoor Lake in Rann of Kutchh. The famers fear that this will aggravate floods in case of heavy showers.

Local communities Mehrano along the border of Thar, from Nabisar to Kaloi, practice flood irrigation. They get water for cultivation only when heavy rains force Dhoro Puran to flow till its tail end. They store that water and use it to irrigate their crops. They fear that damming at Nabisar will deprive them of the floodwater they have been getting and result in food insecurity.

The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at abbaskhaskheli110@gmail.com

A crisis in the making