By Muhammad Ali Asghar
LAHORE, Sep 10 (APP):With the largest irrigation system, water pricing in Pakistan is believed to help attain sustainable water resources management, as most of the country’s growers irrigate their crops through a massive network of canals, watercourses, and distributaries fed by the Indus River and its tributaries.
This makes it extremely inevitable to rehabilitate and renovate the country’s oldest canal system which is highly affected due to flash floods and lack of proper maintenance, thus unable to cater to modern agricultural requirements.
“Water pricing is an effective economic tool in optimal water allocation and improving efficiency. Proper implementation of water pricing policy can be proved instrumental in managing water demand and achieving fiscal targets,” Malik Ikramullah Khan Dewrah, an agri scientist and member of the agronomists’ forum disclosed this to APP.
He was of the view that the existing system of water pricing and its mechanism would have to be simplified till the time a well-conceived and coordinated strategy was put in place.
“Revenue collection under irrigation water charges is not encouraging mainly because of the high rate of water taxes,” Dewrah added.
He said that tube wells also irrigate the fields on a limited scale, but their use was adversely affecting the underground water table.
On the other hand, typical differences between the irrigation officials and farmers also exist as both justify their claims.
Punjab Irrigation Department’s officials claimed that around Rs 04 billion were being collected from the farmers annually on account of the water rate, while the department had to spend around Rs 20 billion on maintenance and operations of the canals and water channels every year.
To a question, the officials said the water rate was much lower than the cost of irrigation through tube wells and other means, arguing that paying one to two thousand rupees was nothing for a farmer, who easily earns Rs 200,000 from a crop.
To another question, they explained that a flat water rate had been charged for the last 20 years, adding earlier the water rate had been crop-specific as some crops consume huge quantities of water such as sugarcane and some crops need very little water such as cotton.
They stressed the need for reviving the crop-specific water pricing system, asserting that it would not only be a relief to the farmers but also enhance revenues of the irrigation department enabling it to improve the water channels in a better manner.
Pak Kissan Council (PKC) Chairman Tahir Razaq Gujjar said there was a general perception that farmers do not pay taxes but the matter of fact was that prior to reaping a crop, they pay numerous taxes in advance on various inputs such as tax on electricity for agri tube-wells, diesel for agricultural machines, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and seeds etc.
“Unlike other businessmen and manufacturers, the farmers do not have the right to decide about the price of their produce, which is again very unfortunate and unfair. Where is the Competition Commission of Pakistan, when millers purchase sugarcane at very low price but sell the sugar at an exorbitant rate, while we are also compelled to buy fertilizers from the black market at higher prices,” he argued and suggested that the government must take the stakeholders well on board while formulating any policy or deciding about the water price and other inputs.
To a question, Tahir Razaq Gujjar said agricultural land was squeezing due to fast urbanization in the country and in this context, canal water should be in abundance for the remaining agri fields but most of the farmers especially the tail end riparian were not able to receive water due to inefficiency of the irrigation department with regard to completing the brick-lining of water channels and control water theft.
The PKC chairman said as much quantum of groundwater was not being recharged as much was being uplift, it aroused the emergent need for adopting modern and water-efficient techniques such as sprinkling and drip irrigation; promoting greenhouses and tunnel farming.
The government should also focus on crop zoning by ensuring the cultivation of crops as per demand and supply balance at the divisional level, besides expediting work on new dams and water reservoirs.
“Another phenomenon, we experience every year, is flooding cultivation which increases the crops’ damage manifolds therefore the flooding courses must not be encroached and choked by sowing crops in the river bed. The respective district administration and growers alike are responsible for cultivation in the river bed and open water courses,” he responded to a query.
Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) President (Lahore Chapter) Muhammad Momin Ali Malik said the revision of water pricing was required in view of the shrinking fiscal space of the federal government.
With a 21% contribution to GDP, Pakistan’s economy was heavily dependent on agriculture, which relied 90 percent on irrigation due to arid and semi-arid climatic conditions, he said, adding Pakistan’s irrigation and drainage system was in dire straits.
“A critical analysis of the problem leads to the fact that the irrigation system is not properly maintained due to paucity of funds and water is not judiciously used because of its negligible cost. The sustainability of full cost recovery requires financial capacity building of the farming community along with proper service delivery,” he suggested.
The PBF president said at present, the annual water rate was being charged at Rs 80 per acre for the Kharif season and Rs 125 for the Rabi season. However, in different areas of Punjab and KPK water price is up to Rs 400 per acre annually.
PBF Vice Chairman (South Punjab) Chaudhry Nadeem Maqbool stressed the need to develop a strategy for costing and charging of water fees so that a rapid increase in Abiana might not affect the users adversely.
Inter-sectoral strategy is also indispensable for charging in different sub-sectors of water use, he suggested, asserting, that a holistic approach is needed for proper estimation of the full cost of water and deciding about water fees.