Dams crucial for the Punjab, say house members
* Minister promises new transport policy soon
* House unanimous on rights for plant breeders
* Executive order to delay sale of 32-kanals issued
LAHORE: Members of the Punjab Assembly spoke Wednesday about water distribution among the four provinces, with most coming out in support of the proposed dams at Kalabagh, Bhasha, Skardu and Akhora.
Irrigation Minister Amir Sultan Cheema said the Punjab was presently facing an 11 percent shortfall in irrigation water. The Kalabagh, Bhasha, Skardu and Akhora dams must be constructed soon to prevent future shortages, he said. The upcoming wheat crop will not be affected by the shortfall, he said.
Mr Cheema told the house that on February 16 the government started releasing water into canals. This will continue through March 5, he said. Mr Cheema also assured the house that the Punjab would not “at any cost” be deprived of its due share of water.
Parliamentary Law Secretary Malik Ahmad Khan said the proposed dams, which are being championed by Gen Pervez Musharraf, were necessary to ensure the survival of the agriculture sector. “If more water reservoirs are not built the agriculture sector of the Punjab will be destroyed by 2007,” said Mr Khan.
He said Sindh’s demand that its water share be raised to 58.5 percent prior to the construction of the Kalabagh dam was “an injustice”. “This cannot happen before the Kalabagh dam is built,” he said. Mr Khan said the Punjab had 57 percent more arable land than Sindh and that this year the Punjab should not divert its water to Sindh.
The Punjab gets 19MAF or 48.9 percent of the total water available to the provinces and Sindh 32.7 percent, as per the Water Accord of 1991, he added.
Mehr Ejaz Ahmad of Muslim League-Quaid urged the government to protect farmers of the Punjab by not diverting any water to Sindh.
Asghar Ali Gujjar, Dr Wasim Akhtar, Syed Ehsanullah Waqas and Arshad Mehmood of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal also came out in support of the dams and said Sindhi nationalist parties should not sow the seeds of hatred between Sindhis and Punjabis. They demanded the government line water channels with brick to slow seepage.
Meanwhile, during question hour, Transport Minister Shamshad Ahmed Khan told the house that his department presently was framing a new transport policy.
“The policy is being finalised and will be sent to the cabinet for approval soon,” said Mr Khan. The new policy will dramatically improve public transport, he said.
Mr Khan added that a previous proposal to set up small bus and wagon terminals had been panned. “Only standardised terminals, with a minimum area of three kanals, will be allowed for buses and wagons,” he said. The government is also looking into ensuring buses do not overcharge customers and are not overcrowded, he added.
Mr Khan said wagons were gradually being ordered out of service and replaced with environment-friendly buses. He said private companies had added 923 such buses to routes in four cities—Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Multan—under 10-year contracts. More buses will be added in three months, he said.
The minister said his department had been allocated Rs 7 million to purchase equipment required to monitor vehicular emissions, and that the January 26 directive to operators of all tractor trolleys and cattle-drawn carriages to install safety features would be enforced.
Mr Khan said the Transport Department owned 62 properties across the Punjab. The Punjab Privatisation Board had auctioned off the rest for some Rs 507 million, he added.
Meanwhile, the house by voice vote unanimously passed a resolution recommending the federal government work to ensure the rights of plant breeders.
The resolution reads: “This (house) under Article 144 of the Constitution of Pakistan empowers the Majlis-e-Shoora to legislate for the rights of plant breeders and (asks) that the federal government, in consultation with the provincial government, present this bill”.
A motion questioning the sale of 32-kanals of government-owned land in Sheikhupura was postponed until the next session. A member claimed the land was sold for Rs 200,000, far below the market price. The member said the plot should be used for a college or university. Revenue Minister Gul Hameed Rokhri agreed to issue an executive order to stay the sale process until the issue was resolved.
Governor Punjab former Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool through Acting Speaker Shaukat Hussain Mazari on Wednesday prorogued the 14th session of the Punjab Assembly.
The latest session started Monday during which the house passed bills for housing schemes for journalists and government servants. —Staff Report