NA session: Khawaja Asif suggests water tax, Khursheed Shah wants national debate

NA session: Khawaja Asif suggests water tax, Khursheed Shah wants national debate
ISLAMABAD: Two key federal ministers informed the National Assembly on Wednesday that the present water shortage had become “critical” and called for convening a national conference or a special parliament session to devise a plan to deal with the issues of water scarcity, climate change and population explosion, terming the situation a “national emergency”.

Responding to a calling-attention notice moved by the opposition members “regarding shortage of water in Cholistan”, Minister for Water Resources Syed Khursheed Shah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif cited the growing population and wastage of water as the main causes of the present situation.
The defence minister even suggested imposition of tax on water usage.
“When people get anything free, they will not use it economically and when they pay a price, they will use it economically,” declared Mr Asif.

President summons joint session of parliament to meet after NA sitting today

Mr Asif said there were areas in Pakistan where people did not even have drinking water whereas there were areas where water kept on flowing from taps throughout the day. He said they needed to hold a serious debate on the issue with the help of experts, including members of the Flood Commission, who could suggest ways and mechanism for the debate.
The defence minister said water and population were the two issues which had been neglected by the governments in the past. They did not make any attempt to find a permanent solution. He said the country had the same quantity of water which it had in 1950s, but the number of consumers had increased four to five times. He was of the view that there was no shortage of water in real terms, but the nation was facing the present situation due to decrease in the storage capacity and population explosion. He said natural storages had also decreased due to construction activities in rural areas.
Mr Asif, who had also served as the water and power minister in the previous PML-N government, said they could not build a dam in Balochistan only because of political rivalry between the two tribes despite the fact the Asian Development Bank was ready to provide funds. He said the country had been using some 5,000-year-old irrigation technique. Moreover, he added, water theft and wastage were common in the country. He suggested changing irrigation techniques to help resolve the water shortage issue.
Earlier, responding to the calling-attention notice, Khursheed Shah called for convening a conference on important national issues like climate change and water scarcity. Mr Shah said that Cholistan had faced a drought-like situation in 1910 and now the situation was again precarious. He informed the house that the water level at Mangla Dam had gone below the dead level and this “dangerous situation” could affect the economy.
Stating that climate change had badly affected the country, the minister expected that there would be excessive water in the country in the month of August due to melting of snow in mountains. He also stressed the need for judicious utilisation of underground water for irrigation purposes, adding that at present there was around 45-47 per cent water shortage.
Mr Shah called for building more dams in the country to save water. He vowed to make efforts for allocating 10 per cent of the next development budget for the construction of dams.
Earlier, Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf referred to the committee concerned a calling-attention notice seeking to increase upper age limit from 30 to 35 years for government appointments after Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi made no commitment in this regard despite pressing demand by the movers.

Joint session of parliament tomorrow

Also on Wednesday, President Arif Alvi summoned a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament for Thursday afternoon (today) to discuss the prevailing political situation as well as a bill seeking amendment to the Elections Act 2017. The bill was on the agenda of the assembly, but the parliamentary affairs minister requested the chair to defer it.
During the NA session, when some members called for passing a resolution to condemn an Indian court’s decision to convict Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik, the defence minister suggested that they pass the resolution during the joint sitting.