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Kalabagh Dam

Kalabagh Dam

The Kalabagh dam is a mega water reservoir that the Government of Pakistan is planning to develop across the Indus River, one of the world's largest rivers. The proposed site for the dam is situated at Kalabagh in Mianwali District of the north-west Punjab province, bordering the North-West Frontier Province.

The dam project is highly controversial and has been since its inception. In December 2005, General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, announced that he would definitely build the dam in the larger interest of Pakistan. In May 26, 2008, Federal Minister for Water and Power of Pakistan. Raja Pervez Ashraf. has said that Kalabagh Dam will not be constructed. He said due to opposition from NWFP, Sindh and other stakeholders, the project is no more feasible.

Kalabagh Dam Key Facts

Name Kalabagh
Dam type Earthfill
Height (above riverbed) 79 m
Length 3,3352 m
Area at retention level
Catchment area
Gross storage capacity
Live storage capacity
Dead storage
Retention level amsl
Main spillway capacity
Design flood discharge
Hydropower generation 3.6 GW
Maximum discharge (in 1929)
Total volume of dam


The region of Kalabagh was once an autonomous jagir (feudal estate) within Punjab. It was annexed by the Sikhs in 1822. After the British annexed the Punjab, the Nawab of Kalabagh was granted the jagir of Kalabagh, in recognition of his services to the British Raj.

According to the PC-II of the Project, Kala Bagh dam was initiated by GOP in 1953, and until 1973, the project was basically considered as a storage project for meeting the irrigation needs, and consequently, rapid increases in the cost of energy have greatly enhanced the priority of the dam as a power project. Because of the critical shortage of energy, some people are of the opinion that building Kalabagh dam is inevitable

The project's paperwork was finalised in March, 1984, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme; supervised by the World Bank, for the client Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) of Pakistan.


The proposed construction of the Kalabagh Dam triggered an extremely bitter controversy among the four provinces of Pakistan, namely Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province, and Balochistan. The only province which is in favour of this dam is Punjab, which is the strongest among all four provinces, as usually the government is mainly centralised in it. The other three provinces have expressed extreme dissatisfaction, going so far as to have their provincial assemblies pass unanimous resolutions condemning the proposed dam. Hence, the project is still under consideration.

The delay is also being caused by the fact that according to international water distribution law, the tailender has a legal and natural right on river and that is why no mega construction or reservoir can be built without permission and endorsement of the tailender i.e. Sindh. In the case where the tailender is not using water i.e. building a water reservoir, a reservoir can be made upstream.

Impact assessments of the proposed dam have shown that while it will provide storage and electricity, the dam will also have adverse impacts on the environment, as can be expected from any large dam. It will also displace a large number of people. While proponents point to the benefits, the adverse factors have been played up by the opponents of the dam. As a result, the dam has been stalled by claims and counterclaims since 1984.

The controversy can be best understood by looking at the viewpoints of each of the 4 provinces.

Punjab viewpoint

Punjab — desperately needs more water to keep up with the growing population and industrial demands on its agriculture. A dam at Kalabagh would also supply cheap hydro-electric power to the whole country.

The annual outflow of water into the Arabian Sea is considered a "waste" in Punjab, which feels that water can be used to irrigate infertile lands.

Punjab wants not just Kalabagh, but also two more large dams on the Indus, at Bhasha and Skardu/Katzarah. It feels that the Kalabagh site is the most favourable, compared to the other two, and that it should be built first. Bahalwalpur and Bahawalnagar will get most of the water stored in Kalabagh Dam.

On the other hands, Punjab has been severely hit by Kalabagh Dam being not built. In the early 1960s, Pakistan had agreed to a deal with India over the royality of rivers. That had given royality of two rivers Satluj and Biyas to India. Since than, the river Ravi, Satluj and Biyas are only used as flood release rivers by India. Pakistan government was allowed and funded to built this dam only because they had agreed such deal with India. Now Pakistan hasn't built the dam and has also barrened a large area of Punjab province by taking out three rivers.

Punjab's view is also based on the fact that a dam of above 3GW production can finish all the energy crisis of Pakistan. Overall, it will help Pakistan to grow further as electricity produced by water is cheapest compared to all other resources.

Punjab has also agreed not to claim any royality on generation of resources from Kalabagh dam, yet they are not trusted by other provinces. Unfortunately for all Pakistan, a technical issue is handled politically.

Sindh viewpoint

Sindh, the first province to point KBD project a blame game, is the lower riparian and strongest opponent of KBD. But its case mainly against Punjab is more on a conceptual basis of what Sindh thought to be "theft of water by Punjab" rather than locating an actual incident of theft. Sindh supports its argument by stating that by virtue of its name and history of water rights of the province, Indus River belongs exclusively to Sindh. Therefore, claiming the construction of dams, Tarbela and Mangla and now KBD actions of theft of water at the irrigation cost of Sindh. Further, Sindh presents many objections against the proposed dam, some of these objections are as follows:

  • Sindh objects that their share of the Indus water will be curtailed as water from the Kalabagh will go to irrigate farmlands in Punjab and NWFP, at their cost. Sindhis hold that their rights as the lower riparian have precedence according to international water distribution law.
  • The coastal regions of Sindh require a constant flow of water down the Indus into the Arabian Sea so that the flowing water can keep the seawater from intruding inland. Such seawater intrusion would literally turn vast areas of Sindh's coast into an arid saline desert, and destroy Sindh's coastal mangroves.
  • With the construction of dams, such as Mangla Dam and Tarbela Dam across the Indus, Sindhis have seen the once-mighty Indus turned into a shadow of its former glory downstream of the Kotri Barrage up to Hyderabad. They fear that there simply is not enough water for another large dam across the Indus, let alone three.
  • The Kalabagh site is located in a highly seismic zone near an active fault, and the underlying rocks are likely to contain numerous fractures, causing the reservoir water to seep through the catacomb of fractures and discharge at the lowest point around the reservoir and the Indus river.
  • Damming the Indus has already caused a number of environmental problems that have not yet addressed. Silt deposited in the proposed Kalabagh dam would further curtail the water storage capacity of Manchar Lake and other lakes and of wetlands like Haleji Lake.
  • President General Musharraf and other leaders, such as Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, have promised 'iron-clad' constitutional guarantees to ensure that Sindh gets its fair share of water. However, these assurances mean little to most Sindhis, who claim that even the earlier 1991 Indus Water-Sharing Accord, which is a document already guaranteed by the constitutional body, the Council of Common Interests, has been violated, and that Punjab has "stolen" their water.

The objection to Kalabagh in Sindh is widespread. Even political parties of Sindh that are in the central cabinet and are supported by General Musharraf, such as the MQM, have strongly denounced the dam.

NWFP viewpoint

The NWFP has two main objections to the dam.

  • While the reservoir will be in the NWFP, the dam's electricity-generating turbines will be just across the provincial border in Punjab. Therefore, Punjab would get royalties from the central government in Islamabad for generating electricity. Contrary to this, however, Punjab has agreed not to accept any royalties from the Kalabagh Dam. The fact that the NWFP will suffer the adverse consequences of the reservoir but not get royalties is seen as unfair.
  • Concerns that large areas of Nowshera District would be submerged by the dam and even wider areas would suffer from waterlogging and salinity as has occurred with the Tarbela Dam. As the water will be stored in Kalabagh damn as proposed, that will give water level rise to the city that is about 200 km away from the proposed location. This is very much possible but it can be easily controlled by giving and creating water streams and using tubewell systems.

Balochistan viewpoint

The Baloch are not directly affected by the dam as such. Rather, most nationalist Baloch Sardars see the dam as another instance of Punjab lording it over the smaller provinces. By opposing the dam they are signalling their disaffection with being the poorest province and most neglected of all in development. In reality Balochistan can only get more water and its due share after the construction of Kalabagh dam and Kachhi canal.


Most independent analysts believe that the foremost problem with the proposed dam at Kalabagh is one of a trust deficit between the Punjab on one side and the other three provinces on the other. The noted columnist, Ayaz Amir suggested that the people of Punjab should redefine their assumptions about the rest of Pakistan and distribution of resources. A layman of Punjab does not understand why the rest of Pakistan does not trust Punjab. The answer, according to Amir, lies in the frequent coups staged by the Pakistan Army (which is overwhelmingly Punjabi in its composition), as well as the Army's extra-constitutional intervention and influence in public sector and civil institutions of the country in general and Sindh in particular. Now no province is ready to trust the Punjab.

All Pakistanis agree that Pakistan faces a severe water shortage, and that some form of water management must be implemented soon. Many point out that even if work on Kalabagh were to start tomorrow, it would still take at least eight years to complete and commission such a large dam. In the meantime, the water situation would continue to worsen. Smaller dams, barrages, and canals must be built before that, and water conservation techniques introduced.

The WAPDA for years repeatedly changed its statistics on the dam, to the point where no-one in Pakistan now believes any of its figures. Government of Pakistan formed a technical committee, headed by A. N. G. Abbasi, to study the technical merits of the Kalabagh dam vis-a-vis the other two. The four-volume technical report concluded that Bhasha or Katzarah dam should be built before Kalabagh, further complicating matters. To make matters even more complex, the report also stated that Kalabagh and Bhasha Dams could be considered feasible

The abrupt way in which President General Musharraf announced the decision to build the dam, simply overruling the objections of the smaller states, has sharply polarised public opinion.

The fact that the General literally dragged so controversial an issue off the backburner and thrust it into national centre stage without considering the predictable reactions from the smaller provinces has left many aghast. Much has been said in the press, and the issue is still far from being resolved.

On the 26th of May 2008, Federal Minister for Water and Power of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf has said that Kalabagh Dam will not be constructed. He said due to opposition from NWFP, Sindh and other stakeholders, the project is no more feasible. It is also important to note that Raja Pervez Ashraf is a total Idiot


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