Like a blob of ectoplasm sits Kinjhar Lake to the right of Karachi. Snaking out of it is the city’s existing current supply called K-II and K-III that dip and head past two tiny lakes, Haleji and Hadero. They head to the waterfront and pass Gharo, Makli and Bhambore to reach Dhabeji from where the water is pumped up.
By contrast, K-IV emerges from a higher point in Kinjhar Lake and heads away from the sea up to barely touch DHA City, cross the Super Highway or M9 and crawl through what is now Bahria Town to Hub and stop at Deh Allah Piyaee.
When the water board had initially thought of K-IV in 2002, they wanted to explore an alternate route. The existing bulk supply to Karachi in the shape of K-I, K-II and K-III all went to one point, Dhabeji, but it was considered vulnerable. It was close to the sea. What if there were an earthquake or tsunami?
What about a new route that went up to Nooriabad? But because Nooriabad was physically at a higher plane than Kinjhar, extra pumping might be involved. The advantage of exploring a route that ran close to K-II and K-III was that the terrain was familiar. Routes that headed up closer to Nooriabad would pass through rocky land, which would automatically be more expensive because they would have to use dynamite to blast through the rock.
A new route that went up to target the north of Karachi had another advantage. The city’s west and north had generally been struggling for water as they had initially depended for many years on Hub dam, but that had been drying up and was unreliable.
Then there was the desire that it be studied how practical it would be to include Haleji and Hadero lakes. The advantage, some engineers on the project have argued, is that these water bodies could work as backup storage if anything were to happen to Kinjhar Lake, or if any cleaning needed to be done. But other engineers point out that Hadero has crocodiles and because they two lakes are brackish the cost of rehabilitating them would be too high.
Either way, by 2007, route No 8 was presented by Osmani & Co as the most economical and feasible route for K-IV. This plan did not include Haleji and Hadero Lakes, a point that was raised many years later by the fourth project director during information provided for an inquiry. In fact, all we know is that at least ten men from the KWSB signed off on Route No. 8.
When Osmani was asked to consider the best route, it was told to try to find one with the least inhabited area. If the canal would pass through private land, KWSB would have to go through the difficult and expensive headache of resettlement or buying land. K-IV would essentially need to get a 1,000-foot wide strip for its canal (called right of way or ROW) that ran for a length of 121kms.
The way engineers talk about the strip of K-IV is by referring to the starting point as 0 at Kinjhar Lake (Road Distance or RD 0) and the end of the canal, at Deh Allah Piyaee, as RD 121 at the end of its 121-kilometer length.
As it turned out there were plenty of problems with route No. 8. One of them was that it was hilly, and so at two points water would have to be pumped up, at RD6 and RD28. The other routes (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9) had more water travelling by gravity and needed just one pumping station. Routes 7 and 8 needed two pumping stations. (For some reason there is no route number 3 in the plans.)
But by far the greatest difficulty that emerged for route No. 8 was the land that needed to be acquired for the canal. In total, roughly 13,000 acres were needed for the entire project but work has been stalled for 2,000 acres beyond the Super Highway. From RD0 to RD86, from Kinjhar to the highway, mercifully the land belonged to the government and KWSB didn’t have to worry. But as soon as K-IV hit the Super Highway, there were pockets of private land or parts that were encroached on. At one point the FWO had to stop digging because either the land was not free or the matter had gone to court.
Wherever possible, the project director had encroachments cleared. But there is a total of a 35km stretch (between RD86 and RD121) where they can’t dig. A portion of roughly 5,820m is in court where eight cases have been filed for small strips, some as little as 75m in length. The entire project is waiting for the high court to rule before work can continue in these parts. This has, ostensibly, been a cause of frustration for the FWO that could not work as planned. The general understanding is that it was KWSB’s job to get the land. Many of the delays were caused by not processing the land acquisition properly and applying the wrong sections.
“The government started the land acquisition quite late,” says Rafey Siddiqui, a water expert who was interviewed at the Osmani office. “Court cases cropped up because it was private land. We have to redesign around it when land is not acquired by the client.”
The land for K-IV should have been acquired or bought when the feasibility study was prepared. “In engineering there are good economic solutions or bad expensive solutions,” Rafey added. “If there isn’t land, then we have to go around it and it’s going to cost money. The government has to decide that it will compensate people, or pay the billions more to build around it.”
As the land had not been acquired in pockets, Route No 8 has been changed 22 times to move around those pockets of land. “That is a very big question mark as the process was not followed,” said the last project director, Assad Zamin, in an interview with SAMAA Digital. “If you decide there is an obstruction, you note the reasons, the realignments have taken the cost up Rs3b.” The Water Commission recorded Osmani’s remarks on this.
The Water Commission was set up by the Supreme Court to look into Sindh’s water crisis and had touched upon many aspects of K-IV. When the realignments were brought up, at one point the commission threatened to refer the matter to the National Accountability Bureau because people were filing petitions that the route of K-IV was deliberately changed with mala fide intentions to benefit Bahria Town.
To read the next article of the series on Karachi’s K-IV water project, click on the image below
This story was originally published in October 2019.