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Water Rates

This is the first time that such an in depth study has been conducted on this subject. After The


of the

Province of Sindh

by E.H. Aitkin (1907), no one seems to have taken pains to study this topic


. I have purposely given the relevant notifications issued from time to time, in the hope that it will be useful to

future researchers

, scholars, historians, and departments seeking to know the historical background of

water rate

(abiana) in Sindh, as in the past different methods seem to have been adopted, and, furthermore, no accurate analysis has come to light. It was not an easy task to lay hands on all the notifications, and I had to delve deep into the archives.


Water rate

or abiana has a long and chequered history. The

irrigation system

along the Indus seems to be as old as its civilization It underwent numerous changes, from Simple

flood irrigation

to the

modern irrigation system

. It Was scientifically established a century ago when diversion

hydraulic structures

were built on the rivers and the canal heads. Some of the most pioneering works on canal design were done in the Subcontinent.

     The earliest

water lifting device

in ancient Sindh was the boka (

leather water bucket

) which was known in

Harappan times

. The pulley was not known in those days; the boka therefore was pulled up from the well by a long lever hinged over an inverted U frame fixed in the ground, or over a tripod similarly fixed. The limitation to lift was the height of the U-frame on its tripod. Ordinarily, it could not be over ten feet. The multiple pulley was known in

900 BC

; the simple pulley was a much earlier innovation. The boka operated by animal power was developed for irrigation during the Declining

Indus Culture

. The animal power used in Sindh may have been oxen to start with. Camels may have been used from around 1000 BC.

     The boka seems to have been adopted from Central India. It has an advantage over the

Persian wheel

in that it does not spill water back into the well. It is shaped like a tea kettle, and in its modem form, is raised or lowered from the top by a rope over a pulley. When the bag passes over the level of a smaller pulley, lower than the first, the spout is pulled horizontally and the water rushes out from the spout into the outlet already built. This writer has very recently seen the boka being used by the desert people of District Tharparkar. In the local terminology, it is called charhi.

     The Persian wheel is a much later development. Low-lift wheels may have been developed before high lift wheels. The Persian wheel has a limitation in that it cannot work satisfactorily beyond a 30 foot depth without reducing the weight of the buckets. The boka is much more efficient than the Persian wheel. The Persian wheel may have reached Sindh during the Scythian or Parthian eras, 84 BC to AD 67, most probably after the beginning of the Common Era. The low-lift Persian wheel is one of the most efficient of the ancient water lifting devices. The use of the Persian wheel was common before the

British period

. It was essential in more than half of Sindh for raising and harvesting the crops successfully. Farmers used it to grow crops such as cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. The Persian wheel was operated by camels or one or two bullocks, depending on the lift and number of buckets the endless belt. The medieval Arabs called the bucket wheel the Sindh wheel.

Diesel operated pumps

for irrigation were introduced in Sindh during World War I. There was another type of irrigation system, using the

River Indus

, called sailabi. Here land was purposely flooded summer and winter crops were raised on preserved moisture. Such areas were natural depressions or lake beds which were used for winter crops when the water from them had been drained out for other purposes or evaporated. The rive rain areas naturally flooded in summer were also utilized for sailabi cultivation. The winter crop called dubari (Second Crop) is another innovation in the rice areas. Here the ground is fully saturated with water by early August. After the harvest of the rice crop in October or November, the water table is still 12_18tt deep and the surface is wet. A dubari crop of peas, beans, wheat, and barley is raised on it. The above two methods go back to Moen jo daro times. Unlimited control over the labour of the subjects enabled the rulers of the Indus Valley to build spectacular cities, palaces, gardens, grain stores, and tombs. The Irrigation State has despotic leadership and a despotic government and is invariably stronger than the society it rules (Hughes, The Sindh Gazetteer). Government collection of land revenue over a vast irrigated tract and the maintenance of canals requires efficient record-keeping. The need for such records gave rise to the invention of writing and counting. The Indus Civilization developed numerical, arithmetical, and weight systems in both binary and decimal. Once they had been forced to become record keepers, they became great organizers, and in consequence, great builders urban as well as

irrigation projects


It was probably during

Amrian times

(c. 3500 BC) that gabarbands were constructed in Kohistan. They were not water storage dams but water diversion dams. They acted as weirs, diverting storm water into adjoining lands which had been given proper embankments along the contour lines to hold and retain 12 to 15 of water for four days, allowing the water to soak into the ground. On this preserved moisture a Itharif crop of grain, oil seed, etc., was raised.

The men of Sindh also used spring water for raising crops. Some springs Dam Buthi, Tang, and Kai support irrigated agriculture even today.

     It was under the Mauryan Dynasty (323-184 Bc) that land revenue was first correctly assessed by measurement of land and properly collected. The driving force behind this task was Chanakya, the Chief Minister of Chandragupta and the author of Arthasastra. The Mauryas had a Superintendent of Agriculture who assessed land rates according to its quality and the method of irrigation. The normal government share was one-fourth of the produce. The water rate, which was one-fifth to one-third of the produce, had to be paid as extra.

In the eighth century, we find that the public revenue of Sindh under Arab rule was derived mostly from the land tax. The assessment upon Sindh and Multan was 1,150,000 dirhams (or about Rs 270,000) which comprised land tax, poll tax, customs duties, and other miscellaneous items. The Arab Governor of Sindh was in fact a kind of a farmer- general who bound himself to pay to his sovereign, the reigning Khalifa (Caliph), certain sums, as set down in the public register. The land tax was usually rated at two-fifths of the produce of the wheat and barley if the fields were watered by public canals, three-tenths if irrigated by wheels or other artificial means, and one-fourth if altogether unirrigated. Arable land left uncultivated seems to have been assessed at one dirham per jirab, besides a tenth of the probable produce. Under the Mughals, the mansabdari system was in use (AD 1525-77). The mansabdar was the Military Governor who collected land revenue and irrigation water charges.

The Kalhoras rose to power in Sindh from AD 1700. They were master builders. Their secret lay in the quick restoration of the canal system and the settlement of farmers on it. Oral tradition in Sindh today ascribes many of the older canals now existing to the energy of the Kalhoras. Lambrick thinks that they had achieved a figure of 3 million acres of irrigated, cultivable land. The bulk of land revenue was assessed and realized in kind at rates not exceeding one-third of the gross produce, with some small addition to meet charges of irrigation and collection. Lower rates were occasionally fixed with reference to the greater expenses of irrigation in local circumstances.

The Talpurs (AD 1783 to 1843) charged water tax for maintaining feeder canals built by them. This tax was known as hakaba or water rate. The rates of assessment (or land revenue tax) varied with the kind of irrigation, and various classes of tax included Moke, or irrigation by gravity flow, at Rs. 2/-per bigah (in the last days of the Mirs), and bosi, in which case low-lying land was flooded and, when the water receded, a crop was raised on preserved moisture.

  Mr. Robert Keith Pringle, who took over as first Commissioner of Sindh on 1 October 1848 after the departure of Sir Charles Napier, undertook an indepth study of land revenue and irrigation systems in Sindh. According to him, the cultivation of land and consequently the source of revenue in the Province of Sindh depended almost entirely on artificial irrigation. He observed that different water rates were prevalent for different kinds of cultivation. In the case of Shikarpur District, he found that When the cultivator did not contribute labour to the canal, he was liable to pay a water rate of 3 to 8 annas per bigah to the capitalist who undertook to clear the canals. As regards Karachi District, tax was levied at the following rates: on each charkho, or wheel worked by two bullocks or a camel, 3/2 rupees per wheel, and on each hoorla, or wheel with one bullock, the rate was 2/-; on sailabi or flood land, three kassas of grain per kharar on gross produce or cash at the rate of one rupee per kharar or shalee on rice on the husk and 2/- per kharar on all other grains; hakaba or water tax at the rate of 3 kassas of grain per kharar on the gross produce of all land watered from Government canals. In Hyderabad District, the position was somewhat different. The alienated lands generally paid water tax at the rate of Rs 3-8 per large wheel, Rs. 2/- per small wheel, Rs. 1. /4 per kharar on rice, and Rs 2 1/2 per kharar on bajri and juvavi grown on flooded land.

On the establishment of British rule, the produce share taken by the Government was reduced to that which the Mughal emperors had considered fair, namely one-third, but this was the maximum demand, made only upon land irrigated with the least expense. The lift rate, which applied to the greater portion of the country, was one-fourth. This was the basis of the assessment then. On the introduction of cash assessment in 1849, i.e., six years after the conquest, the one-fourth share was commuted into one empirical rate of Rs. 24-8 per wheel, which was approximately equivalent to Rs 2-8 per acre. The crop tests undertaken between 1894-5 and 1902-3 demonstrated that the assessment was about one-tenth of the gross produce.

According to the report of the Indian Commission 1901-3, the land revenue in Sindh fluctuated as it was levied only on land actually cultivated during the year. Nine-tenths of the assessment of irrigated lands were regarded as due to canals and were credited to them in the accounts as irrigation revenue. It was therefore practically a water rate, varying with the area actually irrigated and the kind of crop grown, although taken in the form of land revenue. This Sindh system somewhat resembled that which was in force in Egypt, where it is impossible To cultivate without irrigation and where the land tax was levied only on land which was irrigated during the Nile flood.

     This system of composite charge continued until 1959, when the West Pakistan Determination of Land Revenue and Water Rate Ordinance 1959 (West Pakistan Ordinance No. LX of 1959, Notification No. Leg3(51)59 dated 6 September 1959) was promulgated, whereby land revenue was separated from the water rate and both were reassessed. This was done under notification No.L.R.7/6.56-ptjJ dated 23 November 1959 and No. 7/6-56.Pt.II dated 23 November 1959 of the Revenue and Rehabilitation, Government of West Pakistan.

For the purpose of fixing the water rates in 1959, all the canals of West Pakistan were broadly categorized as either barrage perennial or non-perennial canals or as non barrage canals. The water rates were determined according to the source of supply of each canal system.

While fixing the water rates for irrigation from various canals, the following criteria were kept in mind:

(a)     Interest on the capital cost of a canal and its working expenses;

(b)     the cultivators capacity to pay;

     In 1972 the Board of Revenue, Sindh, in their Memo No. 30-06-1971 /Rev-I(S.I) of March 1972, announced that the Governor of Sindh and Martial Law Administrator Zone D had decided that the assessment work of land revenue and abiana be re-transferred to the Revenue Department from the Irrigation Department from Rabi 1971-2.

The rates for water supply to the Forest Department were sanctioned under West Pakistan Government Notification No. 2/19-60 (Rev) Southern/63 Vol. III dated 15 November 1965 at the rate of Rs. 8.40 per acre per half year.

     The water rates were again revised under notification dated 29 September 1969 of the Irrigation and Power Department, Government of
West Pakistan
. The above rates were revised under notification No. 2 (4.50(R&S)/70 dated 21 October 1969 of the
Sindh Irrigation
and Power Department up to the commencement of agriculture year 1972-3.

     The Government of Sindh Irrigation and Power Department issued notification No.2/4.SO (DS-/70-RWR- Part-Il) dated 22 March 1980, according to which the rates in respect of

water supplied

from the canal for the purpose of irrigation as per actual cropped area were prescribed as mentioned in the schedule.

     The following further clarifications were, however, issued under letter No. S/4-50(R&S)-10 RWP/IV dated 19 May 1981:

(i) Areas that are irrigated by flow supply from government lift channels will be assessed at twice the rate of abiana fixed for water supplied from gravity flow canals.

(ii) Areas irrigated by private lift pump/Persian wheels installed on government lift channels will be assessed at the same rate prescribed for gravity flow canals.

(iii) Areas irrigated by private lift pumps/Persian wheels installed on gravity flow canals will be assessed at half the rate prescribed for gravity flow canals.

(iv) Areas irrigated partly by canal water supply and partly by private tube-wells will be allowed rebate of 25 per cent in the rate prescribed for the said canal, up to the maximum of 100 acres.

(v)  The non-perennial canals also supplying irrigation by giving required doses of water for rabbi season will have to be assessed for abiana as already prescribed in the Schedule.

(vi)  In rive rain areas, where canal water is not supplied and the area is cultivated purely by means of private tube- wells/lift pumps, no abiana is to be charged.


water rates

for the

Pandhi Wahi Canal system


Kotri Barrage

were fixed as per actual cropped area under notification No.2/4-SO (A&S)/70 PWR Pak: IV dated 30 June 1981 of the Government of Sindh, Irrigation and Power Department, subsequently revised on 7 July 1982 and 26 March 1985.The water rates for non-irrigation purpose were fixed with effect from 1 July 1980 under notification No. Sf40! 4030(R&S)/71 dated 10 July 1980.The water rates prescribed under notification dated 26 March 1982 were increased by 25 per cent with effect from Kharif 1993 vide notification dated 8 August 1993. The rates prescribed under notification dated 26 August 1994 were increased by 15 per cent with effect from Kharif 1994 under notification dated 6 November 1994, and by a further 25 per cent with effect from Kharif 1995-6 under notification dated 28 November 1995. These rates were again revised from Kharif 1996-7 under notification dated 15 April 1996 of the Government of Sindh, Irrigation and Power Department.