Muhammad Iqbal, a resident of Samandi Wala village in Mianwali, cultivates his 10-acre rain-fed land. When the plan to irrigate the lands of his village, including Ghundi, Gulbazi Wala, Masti Wala, and nearby areas, with canal water was proposed 30 years ago, he strongly opposed it because a significant portion of his land was under the threat of being swallowed by the new canal.
He says that upon understanding the local community’s needs, he agreed to give some of his land for the canal, dreaming about the lush crops in the rest of the field. However, even after 30 years, this dream has not become a reality.
Muhammad Iqbal talks about the Paai Khail Lift Irrigation Scheme. This project is incomplete and now on the verge of abandonment.
He claims that when Imran Khan became Prime Minister, he also had hopes because he was a voter from his constituency. MPA Aminullah Khan had also assured them of completing the project, but no practical steps were taken.
“It seems we will never see our lush crops in our lifetime.”
The Thal Canal, originating from the Indus River near Jhang Barrage and passing through Jhang and Khushab, also passes through the Paai Khail villages in Mianwali. The Irrigation Department decided to implement the Thal Canal Lift Irrigation System for this area in 1993.
Under this project, two small canals (distributaries) were to be taken out from the Thal Canal. The right canal was named Vannar, and the left canal was named Vanail. 200 cusec water was to be lifted from 50 feet depth and delivered to these canals.
According to the Irrigation Department’s records, the length of Vannar Canal is 23.32 kilometres (from Paai Khail to Chhidro), and Vanail Canal is 13.41 kilometres long (from Paai Khail to Sikandarabad). These canals were supposed to irrigate 78 thousand acres of land in 12 villages.
During the tenure of former Chief Minister Manzoor Wattoo, the project’s foundation was laid, and work began in June 1995. This project was supposed to be completed in June 1996. However, work continued for five more years and was halted due to technical issues.
After several years, work on the project resumed. The completion deadline was set for June 2011. The initial cost of the project in 1995 was 482 million rupees. By 2011, the revised estimate had increased to 6.3 billion rupees. This entire amount has now been spent.
The Irrigation Department prepared the PC-1 of this project. This department has been overseeing all the work. According to the plan, two pump houses were built to lift water from the canal into the distributary canals. Each pump house has three electric motors, each with a capacity of 50 cusecs.
The excavation of the canals had been mostly completed years ago. However, Vanarr Canal, which is about four kilometres long, and Vanail Canal, about one and a half kilometres long, are currently only partially operational. Their inactive portions lie deserted. Rainwater has filled underpasses, which could cause accidents at any time.
The condition of the active portions of both canals is not much better. Executive Engineer (Exen) of the Irrigation Department, Ahmed Rafique, alleges flawed policymaking and corruption destroyed the project.
He says that poor material was used in the project. That is why water still flows from the bridges of the active part of the canals. The initial part of the canal was 15 feet above the ground level. Gravel was not placed under the cement slabs on the mounds during construction.
Exen Anhaar explains that when water pressure increases on the canal bed, the plates separate, causing the canal to break. Similarly, the possible pressure of rainwater in mountainous areas was also ignored.
Ahmed Rafiq adds that political interference occurred in this project from the beginning. The design was repeatedly altered due to pressure. A feasibility study was not conducted properly due to the hasty decisions of a deceased assembly member, and now, the project has come to a standstill.
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They mention that this project is still “not completely dead.” A new feasibility study is ongoing to identify design flaws and possible solutions. Then, efforts will be made to revive the project.
Thirty-five-year-old Muhammad Tufail cultivates a 5-acre area in Gulbazi Wala. He says he has to bring expensive water through a tube well from a considerable distance, increasing labour and expenses. If canal water were available, it would solve many problems for the local farmers.
He mentions that they only cultivate wheat during the winter. They leave the land empty during the summers because it requires more water during that season. If the government completes the Paai Khail Irrigation Scheme promptly, small-scale farmers will benefit.
Former assembly member Aminullah Khan says he made efforts to revive this project on a priority basis. The Irrigation Department had also initiated a new feasibility study, but unfortunately, the Punjab government ended, and work on it could not commence.
Published on 18 Sep 2023