Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan has admired Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Usman Buzdar for initiating the 115-kilometre (km) long Jalalpur Irrigation Project worth $360 million after a delay of 120 years, not knowing that the project was actually conceived, planned, negotiated and approved by his arch-rival and former chief executive of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif, The News reported.
“I congratulate you all. Today, I admire Punjab CM Usman Buzdar for initiating this project. This project has been delayed for the past 120 years. I am thankful that you started this project because these projects change the lives of the people,” the premier had said at the inauguration ceremony held in Jhelum in the last week of December 2019.
However, official documents revealed that the project was entirely planned, initiated and negotiated by the Shehbaz administration back in 2009 when the then CM had ordered its construction.
According to reports, the feasibility work for the project was completed in 2013 and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was engaged. It takes three to four years in the processing of such projects’ planning, loan negotiation, environmental studies, population relocation plans among other.
A mega project like the one in question needs years owing to all the necessary surveys and the completion of its designs, which were completed in 2017. All details are also documented on the ADB website.
A copy of the loan agreement shows that it was signed by Pakistan and ADB in April 2018 by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, ahead of which, the project agreement was signed in April 2017 by the then Punjab Irrigation Secretary Asadullah with Shehbaz’s approval.
The Punjab Annual Development Plan (ADP) approved by the Shehbaz government in its budget for fiscal year 2017-18 also reflected the project. From 2013-2018, the Punjab government spent approximately Rs2,998 million to acquire land for this project, and the last allocation of Rs600 million was made in the ADP for 2017-18.
At the planning stage, even alignment of canal was decided in consultation with locals through the lawmakers concerned. In 2016, a number of seminars were also held in Khushab to finalise alignment as per the needs of the farmers.
In ADP for the year 2016-2017, the engineering designs were completed. As much as Rs70 million was spent on this project by PML-N government for engineering design in 2016-2017 and Rs230 million was allocated in 2017-2018. Total expenditure made on land acquisition by the then government was Rs3 billion. A total of 8,000 acres of land was acquired by the previous government, which was a huge administrative exercise while Rs497 million was spent on the engineering design of this project. Detail engineering design took 16 months.
The canal will irrigate 160,000 acres of land in Pind Dadan Khan and Khushab tehsil and interestingly even the people, farmers and residents of these areas are fully aware that project was initiated by Shehbaz in 2013.
As per the official documents, the loan agreement was signed by Shehbaz in 2017 and everything was finalised and commissioned by May 2018, but now the premier has been made to believe that incumbent Punjab CM Buzdar is behind the project.
According to ADB documents, the project is located by the right bank of River Jhelum in Punjab. It will create new non-perennial irrigation services for enhanced agricultural production in Pind Daden Khan and Khushab districts. The project will increase kharif crop intensity by 50 per cent, improve crop yield and reduce land degradation. It will directly benefit over 200,000 rural people; mostly poor.