Friday, August 20, 2010

Floods:irrigation system,abiana and income tax on agricultural incomes?

Peoples misery in the floods has been also exacerbated due the failure and breaches in the protective dykes and bunds.These flood control infrastructure elements are in a poor state due to poor maintenance.And why poor maintenance? Corruption,over-staffing in provincial irrigation departments,under-budgeting and low abiana rates/user charges.According to a World Bank study,in Pakistan Abiana rates are only 15 % of the requirements which do not cover even routine operating(O&M) expenses, not to talk of modernization and replacement etc.Where will the money come from.Land lords are not prepared to pay Income Tax,falsely arguing that Agriculture is already taxed heavily.We have seen how heavy is Abiana?And then one who earns the taxable income is to pay income tax.The untaxed and undisclosed incomes give rise to many social vices and exhibitionism also.So when you do not pay the tax and abiana as well,where will the money and resources come from.Today the houses and property of every body,rich and poor,have suffered.Misery is common,combined and pervasive.

Provincial irrigation departments have to be reorganised.These are corrupt,antiquated and over-staffed.It is widel alleged that they indulge in all kind of illegal practices in water distribution and are notorious in siphoning off the funds.For this purpose autonomous Provincial Irrigation Development Authroities(PIDAs) were made and a system of self management of user-associations was built in.

The whole irrigation network in all the provinces in a state of decay which has exacerbated the flooding problem.Let me quote here from a recent World Bank Report:Some recent events in the form of breaches in the first line of protective embankments in Sindh and the current condition of many distributaries,minors and water courses,and their related situation of Sukkur Barrage are clear evidence of accumulative neglect....The deteriorated structures such as gates and outlets...the delvery capacity of canals is 30% below design becuase of the cumulative effects of deferred maintenance and lack of rehabilitation.

The major solution to control such extra ordinary floods is large storage dams,which would regulate water flow.It is only sincerely hoped that the opposition to storage dams in Sindh and NWFP would go away after these floods.However other steps should be taken in the meantime.The most important of which is a sustained and sustainable irrigation and flood management system.The total loss has yet to be estimated.It would exceed several billion Dollars.Is it a good economics to suffer such losses and not invest much less in loss prevention.

Most countries have large rivers.And all rivers tend to overflow.Nations have built protections aginst these overflows.Chinese used to experience such floods regularly in history,but no more.
Apart from standard irrigation practices and building storage dams in the north,other unconventional steps have to be taken.Government is already on building small dams where topology and geology permits.Consideration may be given to enlarge their volumes by broadening and deepening those as wells. Also water diversion channels around major population centers may be considered.I can readily cite two examples of such water channels;one in Austria and the other in Canada.In Austria on river danube ,a water channel has been made to divert flood water.It is 21kms long and 70-210 meters wide.In western Canada at Winnipeg,Red River Floodway has been built whch is 47 kms long.A total of 2.75 billion cft of material had to be removed to provide for the flood storage and diversion.Also the silt load of the Indus should be reduced by controlling deforestation in the north.

Finally river-basin modelling and real-time river flow monitoring system building in details of dykes and bunds coupled with a rational and transparent decision-making system for emergency measures such as breaking bunds and dykes should be brought about.In the absence of a formal system the incentives for allegedly biased action are great and would be detrimental to harmony,peace and cohesion among the communities involved.

Finally all these measures require money and resources.International community can at best help in short term relief effort.Most of the rebuilding has to be financed by ourselves .If loans are taken,these have to be serviced.A consensus has to be built on the taxes and abiana issue.Every body pays according to his ability and usage of services.

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