Since coming to power, Prime Minister Imran Khan has mentioned several times how his government will formulate and execute initiatives that would uplift the agriculture sector in Pakistan, ranging from investment in infrastructure and research to fair pricing. A growth rate of 2.67% in the fiscal year 2019-20 compared to a poor 0.58% growth in FY19 is encouraging but hardly enough to bring about the ‘agriculture revolution’ that has been envisioned by the government. One key area that is crucial in ensuring the sustainable growth of the agriculture industry is the uninterrupted supply of water for irrigation, which requires the construction of dams. A major portion of the water stored behind dams is withdrawn to meet the needs of evapotranspiration (ET) of irrigated crops and plantations. There are of course opportunities for seasonal irrigation as well, but irrigation is the largest user of the water stored in dams. Although Pakistan still receives ample rainfall each year, there are not enough dams to store that water, leading to massive wastage. Unfortunately, no major dam has been built in the country for at least the past three decades, if not more. Over the years, successive civilian and military governments have shown little interest beyond placing of foundation stones at construction sites for the purposes of photo ops. The current regime is no different as work on Diamer Bhasha Dam, a humungous undertaking projected to cost $13 billion and generate 4500 MW of hydel power, has been painfully slow, forcing the Supreme Court to take notice and demand answers.
During a hearing last week, the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) told the SC that the government, despite giving guarantees, had yet not released Rs240 billion for equity injection on part of the authority for construction of Diamer Basha and Mohmand dams, which it would now have to raise itself. While the SC does not enjoy a great track record of contributing positively to the building of dams, considering the monumental failure that was the controversial fundraising drive started by former Chief Justice Saquib Nisar, by keeping the government on its toes about timely release of funds to Wapda, it can perhaps perform a much-needed service to the future of water security and agriculture growth in the country.