An inquiry report of a high level committee has revealed that an amount of Rs 28.82 million was embezzled by the divisional office and the sub-divisional offices of irrigation department in execution of Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian Canal (BRBD) Link canal project against erosion of River Ravi. The committee found, among other things, that the government has to sustain a loss of Rs 28 million due to dereliction and weak supervisory control.

It seems that the investigation of this committee, at least, managed to withstand pressure from the Department, as it refused to accept the inept excuses that the Rangers and security forces didn’t allow the concerned division to carry out work, so funds could not be spent, since the evidence, the expenditure occurred in the other divisions, clearly showed otherwise.

This is not the first time that corruption and embezzlement has been found in the departments of irrigation, sadly. In 2015, there were completed inquiries about embezzlement of Rs 2.1 billion in Punjab Irrigation Department (PID)’s development circle in Faisalabad. Just this month, three officials of the PID were accused of having caused the exchequer a loss of Rs520 million. What is even more worrying is that PID does not take accountability seriously, as in that case, after the anti-graft watchdog directed the irrigation department to take action against the three, the PID instead offered them lucrative positions.

It is hoped that the same unique accountability will not be emulated in this case. Signs do not seem positive though, as Irrigation Secretary Capt Asadullah Khan has stated he doesn’t agree with it, as if Rs. 28.82 million is not a big amount, and has made a one-member committee to further probe the matter.

Agriculture remains part of the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, contributing 20% of gross domestic product and employing 42% of Pakistan’s total labour force in fiscal year 2015, with Punjab contributing more than 80% of agricultural output. More than 90% of agricultural output depends on irrigation, due to Pakistan’s semi-arid climate. This makes the matter of corruption and inefficiency on part of the irrigation department a very serious issue, which needs strict investigation and accountability. Keeping in view the fact that Rs. 2.25 billion has been allocated to the PID to promote a modern system of irrigation and technology suitable for weather conditions, it is a matter of high priority that the PID gets its act together to ensure that this project is also not lost to embezzlement.