KARACHI: The Sindh Cabinet, during a meeting on Monday, declared Thar and parts of Umerkot as ‘drought hit’ area and decided to establish a desalination plant to provide potable water to the residents of the metropolis. A maiden meeting of the newly formed cabinet of Sindh government was held on Monday under the chairmanship of Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Syed Murad Ali Shah. The meeting was attended by eight ministers, two advisors, Sindh chief secretary (CS), IGP and relevant secretaries. Speaking to the meeting, CM Murad Shah said that the last government (of Pakistan Peoples Party) had passed a three months budget to enable the caretaker government to make necessary expenditures up to September 2018. “Now, we have to make new budget before Sept 30 and present it in the house,” said the CM. He added that the financial situation of the province was not so good since the funds the provincial government had been expecting from the federal government had not yet been received. While discussing the Suo Moto case regarding utilisation of luxury vehicles, CM Syed Murad Ali Shah directed the CS to put the item in the agenda of the next cabinet. The cabinet members took up the issue of Governor House and said that the federal government had decided to vacate the Governor House. At this the CM, consulted Board of Revenue (BOR) senior member Iqbal Durani and asked him with the title of the Governor House was. The chief minister was told that the Governor House belonged to the Sindh government. The cabinet then proposed to convert Governor House into a museum and a public park should the Governor choose to vacate it. While reviewing the water supply schemes in Karachi, the CM directed minister local government to start work on war footings and install a desalination plant in Karachi so that water issue of the city could be resolved as soon as possible. Board of Revenue senior member Iqbal Durani briefed the cabinet on the drought situation in Thar during the meeting. Drought is a period of usually dry weather that may stretch long enough to cause problems in region such as crop damage, affect livelihood of people. The meeting was told that Taluka Mithi received only 58 mm rain during last from June to August whereas Islamkot received 24 mm, Diplo 51 mm, Kaloi 10 mm, Chachhro 105 mm, Dahli 120 mm and Nagarparkar 40 mm. The meeting was told that all the 167 dehs of all talukas of Tharparkar and 25 dehs of Umerkot were calamity hit areas since 323,435 families from Thar and 43240 families of Umerkot had been affected by the drought. The BoR recommended that government dues be postponed and government duties such as land tax and agriculture income tax be remitted in the areas hit by the drought. The BOR also proposed the distribution of wheat and release of relief funds. The cabinet then decalred Thar and 25 dehs of Umerkot as ‘calamity hit’ areas and decided to give them a relief package which included wheat distribution at the quantity of 50 kg per family per month. The CM also directed the SMBR to seek drought position of Achhro Thar, Kachho and Kohistan from the concerned deputy commissioners so that the people living there could be aided. The chief minister also constituted a committee comprising Revenue Minister Makhdoom Mahboob and Education Minister Syed Sardar Shah to visit Thar along with SMBR, provincial secretaries of health and food and recommend relief measures so support could be offered to the drought struck region. Home Secretary and Inspector General of Police briefed the cabinet about law and order situation in the province. Home Secretary Mohamad Haroon told the meeting that over all, the law and order situation in the entire province was well under control. The meeting was told that necessary instructions had been issued to commissioners, deputy commissions (DCs), IGP, deputy inspector generals (DIGs) regarding the maintenance of law and order situation and cleanliness during Eid-ul-Azha. Home secretary said that all the DCs had been authorized to issue licenses to dealers and charities to purchase and sell animal hides during the Eid after necessary verification. The cabinet was informed that a code of conduct pertaining to animal hides had been issued in both English and Urdu and a list of banned organisations (Schedule IV) had been provided to all the relevant authorities so an eye could be kept on their activities during Eid. The IG police while briefing the cabinet about the overall law and order situation in the province said that the movement on Sindh-Balochistan and Punjab borders was being monitored. The chief minister told the IG that on last Eid-ul-Azha, a terrorist had detonated a blast in Shikarpur. He then instructed the police to take strict security measures in Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Dadu and other nearby districts. The cabinet was also briefed regarding the water position in the meeting. Irrigation Secretary Jamal Shah told the cabinet that the rice crop had suffered a huge loss due to water shortage. It may be instructive to note that the kharif seasons starts from April 1 and continues up to September 30. The early kharif starts from April 1 to June 10 and late Kharif is between June 1 to September 30. The early kharif supplies are dependent on stored water in the reservoirs and inflow at rim stations. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) forecast issued in March, had stated that in Sindh and Punjab that there would be 31 percent water shortage in early kharif, 10 percent shortage in late kharif. KPK and Balochistan were exempted from the shortage. Then the IRSA issued another forecast which revised shortage to 42 percent. However, the actual shortage was recorded at 58 percent. The meeting was told that Tarbella Dam and Mangla Dam went dry in first week of March 2018, preceding the early kharif. The cabinet was informed that Tarbella had a present capacity of 6.05 and the storage as of April 1, 2018 was zero while the present capacity of Mangla was 7.40 and its storage as of April 1, 2018 was also zero. The cabinet was told that the inflows at Rim Stations had began to decline in 2017 and in 2018 the situation grew a lot worse. Irrigation Secretary Shah told the cabinet water shortage was recorded at 45 percent in April 2018, 53 percent in May 53, 38 percent in June 38, 14 percent in July and 25 percent in August 25. The cabinet was told that water shortages interface with the Accord was 60 percent in April, 54 percent in May, 45 percent in June, eight percent in July and 12 percent in August. The meeting was told that the current discharge at Guddu was 256000 cusecs against accord allocation of 37000 cusecs while the withdrawals were 28765 cusecs. At Sukkur Barrage the actual discharge was 205000 cusecs against accord allocation of 56600 cusecs while the withdrawals were 55645. The discharge at Kotri Barrage was 52000 cusecs against accord allocation of 23400 cusecs and the withdrawals were 41835 cusecs. The meeting was then told that the provision of drinking water had been given top priority. Jamal Shah said that cotton cultivation had also been assigned priority as sowing was seasonally limited to May 31, 2018. Shah told the cabinet that schedules were publicized for the information of the growers and a water rotation plan had also been publicized and implemented. The chief minister said that with changing climatic order the water availability situation is expected to become a lot worse. Irrigation secretary then spelt out possible ways forward which included construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam, water conservation and the practice of switching over from conventional practices of flood irrigation to more efficient practices. There was also a suggestion to differ rice sowing season by one month – from May 1 to June 15. The irrigation department recommended strict implementation of embargo on rice cultivation on command of perennial canals such as Rohri, Nara Canals. It was also suggested that high delta crops be substituted with valuable low delta crops and one watering in non-perennial areas be provided to support oil seed crops that survived on single watering. Irrigation Secretary Jamal Shah said that ground water resources may be tapped and saline water agriculture may also be promoted. Officials from Irrigation Dept also proposed the construction of Sehwan Barrage Complex with Manchhar Lake as reservoir and the conversion of Phuleli into a perennial canal. The CM said that Kinjhar, Haleji, Hadero and other depressions could also be developed as reliable reservoirs for water supply to Karachi and Kalri Baghar feeder. The chief minister directed provincial minister and advisors to visit barrages and get water briefing on the spot and report back to him. It was decided that provincial minister Mir Shabirt Bijarani would visit Guddu Barrage, CM Advisor Mohammad Bux Maher would visit Sukkur Barrage, Ismail Rahu would Kotri Barrage and Syed Sardar Shah and Makhdoom Mahboob Zaman would visit left bank canals of the Sukkur Barrage. The chief minister said that he had banned cultivation of rice on the left bank of River Indus. He directed the chief secretary to obtain reports from all the DCs about the rice cultivation on the left bank of the river so that action could be taken. Published in Daily Times, August 21st 2018.