It's been  only forty five days since the caretaker government took over the reins of the country, and in this short period the rupee has been devalued twice, losing 14 % of its value. If things continue like this, we'll see the dollar shooting up to Rs. 150 or even more by the time the next elected government is formed (assuming elections take place on July 25). So why is Imran Khan shouting at the top of his voice that the government of Nawaz Sharif is responsible for this massive devaluation? At least the outgoing government had a firm control over its fiscal policies. Are the caretakers allowed to devalue the rupee in this manner? Why is the Chief Justice not taking notice? If he can intervene to reduce prices of petroleum products, why can't he ask the government to take the rupee back to its former value of Rs. 110 to the dollar. I'm sure he knows that with every devaluation, prices of essential items will rise, until people start thinking seriously about committing suicide.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan suddenly took note of the fact that there is a serious water shortage in the country and asked why this was so. One of his advisors (probably someone with an IQ of less than 40) told him that this was because three provinces had opposed the construction of the Kalabagh Dam (where most feudals of Punjab had purchased land ten years ago when there were strong rumours that building the dam had been approved by the World Bank). The CJP has apparently not heard of global warming and the receding of glaciers which are meant to provide water for our rivers. He has also not observed that there have been practically no rains this year, due to which our all our dams are empty.

Now if there is one thing the CJP should not do is what others are supposed to do. He should of course be much concerned that there are millions of cases pending before the courts, cases involving those who died long ago and whose heirs are also due to die any day. But no, the man has to poke his nose into affairs which should not concern him. He has visited hospitals throughout the country, he got petrol prices reduced (thereby depriving the national exchequer of billions in taxes), and now he is doing everything he can to build dams, thinking that it is child's play, and also not considering the fact that due to global warming, there is no water in our rivers.

So, when he saw that there was strenuous opposition to Kalabagh dam, he started to collect funds for two dams, the foundation stone of one of which (Bhasha dam) was laid six years back and for which land has not yet been acquired. Thinking that collection of funds for the construction of the two dams would be completed in a matter of a few months, he asked everyone within earshot to donate money for the purpose. He must have been shocked at the poor response. At this rate, the funds will take at least 200 years to be collected. He is now talking of increasing water prices, as if the people were not heavily taxed already. So, if anyone reading this knows the CJP, will he or she tell him to arrange for the import of water to be filled in the dams (because we'll have very little rains in future and our glaciers have receded).

Be willing to save
This refers to the editorial ‘Perilous waters’ (July 2). Pakistan’s problem is not the lack of water, but the sheer waste of water. According to experts, Pakistan, at present, has more than enough water for its needs. By adopting water conservation policies and using drip irrigation, the country can increase agricultural production manifold. It should be noted that even in developing countries, only 1,500 litres of water is required to produce a kilo of sugar, but Pakistan uses 7,000 litres for this purpose. Similarly, Pakistani farmers use twice the amount of water in rice production compared to other countries’. Just by reducing wastage, we can have more water for irrigation. And in years of drought, we can adopt cloud seeding to produce rain – a practice that is common in 52 countries across the world. All it requires is thinking out of the box and the will to save.
Shakir Lakhani
The News, July 4, 2018

When promises become lies
PPP Chairman Bilawal Zardari’s convoy was pelted with stones by residents who were protesting against the lack of water and basic facilities in the area. Typically, the PPP dismissed the protests as attempts by rival parties to thwart its influence.
However, Bilawal should reflect deeply on what exactly his party has done for Lyari (and Sindh, for that matter). Ten years of constant misrule by the PPP has proved that we shouldn’t be surprised if the party is shown the door in the forthcoming elections.

Shakir Lakhani
The News, July 3, 2018

Why Kalabagh Dam is not the answer to our water woes

By Shakir Lakhani, June 25, 2018

 A Pakistani family looks at the Rawal dam spill way during the Eid holidays in Islamabad on August 10, 2013. PHOTO: AFP

 A few days back, my views on the futility of Kalabagh Dam published in a national daily evoked a very strong and hostile reaction from many people. I had posed a simple and pertinent question:

“If, as is evident, Pakistan will have very little water in future, what will we fill Kalabagh Dam with?”
Some people said Pakistan will have enough water forever, while others called me an enemy agent. Before delving deeper into why the dam should not be constructed, I would like to share my own experience of water consumption.
Up until 10 years back, I had no idea how much water my family was using, nor was I bothered when I saw it being wasted. This was because the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) charges domestic consumers a fixed amount every month, irrespective of consumption, based upon the floor area of each house. So a large house owner has to pay much more than a small apartment owner, even if only two people live in the large house and the small house has 10 occupants.
However, when I moved into my present apartment (where a meter records water consumption), I found that on an average, each member of my family was consuming 50 gallons daily (including water used for bathing and washing clothes and dishes). During the hot summer months, my water bill shoots up to Rs15,000 a month. This is because water is either obtained from tankers or from a reverse-osmosis plant set up near my apartment block to supply water to 720 apartments.
So, when I read about Pakistan running out of water in the next few years due to receding glaciers and highly reduced rain due to global warming, as well as the diversion of our water by India, I thought it would be good if our people could be compelled to save water. One way of doing that would of course be to make people pay for actual consumption, rather than recover a fixed amount based on the space occupied by their houses. Of course, most of the water of our rivers is consumed for agriculture, so it is essential to train farmers to reduce wastage of water.
A lot of people argue that Kalabagh Dam is the answer to all our water-related problems. My arguments against building it stem from many statistics and examples available to me. It has been known for a long time that huge dams cause great environmental damage, besides being very expensive and construction requiring a very long time. For example, even though the foundation stone of the $11 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam was laid in 2011, but construction has not yet started.
Besides contributing to global warming, dams have resulted in the decimation of fish species, displacement of people, desertification of areas near the coast, and changing the ecology of the planet by trapping sediment which is needed by deltas to support vegetation. The intrusion of the sea and destruction of agricultural land in lower Sindh is a direct result of dams and hydropower projects upstream.
According to International Rivers:
“The livelihoods of many millions of people also suffer because of the downstream effects of dams: the loss of fisheries, contaminated water, decreased amounts of water and a reduction in the fertility of farmlands and forests due to the loss of natural fertilisers and irrigation in seasonal floods. Dams also spread waterborne diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis. Opponents also believe that the benefits of dams have frequently been deliberately exaggerated and that the services they provide could be provided by other more efficient and sustainable means.”
It should be obvious that another huge dam upstream would deal a death blow to Sindh.
One argument in favour of large dams is that hydropower is much cheaper than other conventional options available. But I’d like to argue that the cost of electricity from solar cells has reduced considerably in recent years and is expected to be lower in future and this could be used instead. Moreover, even though hydropower is very cheap, the opportunity cost of it is a lot higher.
“Hydropower should not be considered as clean power because of the destruction of river ecosystems and its many social impacts. Internationally, private investors in power projects are largely avoiding large dams and prefer to invest in cheaper and less risky gas-fired power plants.”
In fact, about 1,000 dams are being dismantled in the US to restore rivers to their original pristine condition.
Gradually, electricity from solar panels is becoming popular. In future, most houses, farms and factories will be able to produce virtually free electricity.
Instead of building the dam (which would alienate the people of three provinces and leave our children and grandchildren to pay the loan of billions plus interest), we should look at the wastage of water by our farmers. Worldwide, rice requires 2,500 litres of water to produce one kilogram, but in Pakistan, we use twice that amount of water. As for sugar, our farmers use 7,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of sugar, whereas in other countries only 1,500 litres of water is used to grow the same amount of sugar!
Not only is this a criminal wastage of water, sugar is one commodity which we should learn to use economically. It’s bad for health, it requires an immense amount of storage, and it is highly subsidised. It therefore has a negative impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); it actually makes the country poorer.
Instead of providing so much subsidy and other benefits for sugar production, the government should provide the same facilities for growth of valuable crops like canola, sunflower and other edible crops. Unfortunately, this seems to be a lost cause as a lot of politics is involved here. Most of our filthy rich politicians are sugar mill owners, who get bank loans written off and pay very little tax. They are, of course, able to do this because they are in the Parliament and they decide how much tax we should pay (while paying negligible amount of taxes themselves).
Moreover, our farmers should take up drip irrigation, which can raise production significantly using the same quantity of water. Israel is the pioneer in this field, and in India,it has been adopted successfully in many states, resulting in saving water for more irrigation.
Singapore, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries rely completely on sea water desalination plants for providing water for drinking and agriculture. Why not try this in Pakistan? Initially, sufficient water for Karachi and coastal areas can be produced by setting up large desalination plants. Later, such plants can be built to provide water for agriculture. The face of Sindh and Balochistan will be changed forever, providing livelihood and food for the poor and impoverished people.
Hence, those who are insisting on making Kalabagh Dam should consider that besides measures to reduce water wastage, there are cheaper alternatives available worldwide to produce electricity and water. The Kalabagh Dam will only leave a huge debt for future generations, besides doing irreversible damage to the environment.

Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (


Kalabagh Dam

ALL evidence indicates that glaciers are melting and we`ll have very little rain in future. The Tarbela and Mangla dams are empty and, as if that wasn`t enough, India is building dams to prevent water flowing into Pakistan.
Yet some people are insisting that the Kalabagh dam should be built (making the nation poorer by $20bn and leaving future generations to pay the interest on the loan). So, if there won`t be any water, what are we going to fill the dam with?

Shakir Lakhani
DAWN, June 15, 2018

Mother of all tax amnesties

If tax evaders are free to whiten their illicit income, tax payers would obviously feel like fools

JUNE 1, 2018

After the approval of the recent budget, the ‘mother of all tax amnesties’ announced recently by the government has become law. It will continue allowing white-collar criminals to indulge in looting and plunder of the state without being punished.
What is the difference between a white collar criminal and the one who steals or kills for profit?
Suppose the government decides to free all those charged with murder, rape, and other heinous crimes; the government would soon face massive public protests. Yet by allowing tax evaders to escape punishment through tax amnesties, every couple of years, the government is reducing its ability to fight crime and terrorism.
Make no mistake; a financial terrorist is as guilty as the one who sets off a bomb in a public place. Both cause huge losses to the state, but the tax thief is the bigger culprit because the state cannot fight terrorism if it does not have the funds to do so. If taxes are recovered on the billions invested in the property market, or from smuggled cloth and other items, the nation will be much safer, and will not have to depend on IMF and other donors for assistance.
The power of corrupt non-filers is evident from the recent appeal by Pakistan Automotive Manufacturers Association (PAMA) to allow non-filers to buy cars.
According to PAMA, the sale of cars manufactured in the country will drop substantially. Knowing that manufacturers, in collusion with tax evaders were deliberately delaying supplies of new cars, they would be the ones most affected by the ban on non-filers purchasing new cars. These unscrupulous elements may even deliberately reduce production of new automobiles to pressurize the government to cave in to their demand.
Presently the punishment for tax evasion is confiscation of the amount evaded, together with a hundred percent penalty. Therefore, if a man buys a house worth a hundred million rupees and he cannot explain how he got the money to buy it, his house can be confiscated, and he would have to pay a hundred million rupees as penalty for his crime. He would thus have to pay two hundred percent of the looted money.
But the current amnesty will recover only two percent of the looted amount from defaulters. One cannot understand why our government is so lenient with such people. In fact, honest taxpayers would definitely feel that they are fools, paying up to thirty percent tax on their incomes while tax evaders can be free to cheat and whiten their illicit income by paying only a pittance every couple of years.
Another clause in the amnesty scheme is for the government to buy the suspected property at twice the declared value if it believes that the seller and buyer are evading taxes by not declaring the true worth of the property (to pay reduced stamp duties and taxes).
This measure is bound to fail, because tax officials can easily be bribed to accept whatever the two parties declare. A better way is to do what is allowed by the Customs. Any importer can offer twenty five percent more than the declared value of any consignment (which is suspected to be under-invoiced), and the Customs is bound to give it to him at the offered price.
In this amnesty, instead of offering to buy the suspected property at twice the declared amount, the government should confiscate and auction it off to the highest bidder, as is the practice in India. This would of course require advertising the sale price and inviting offers from the public for the suspect property. The government would thus earn billions in revenue without resorting to tax amnesties every year or so.
Under the present law, it is very easy to penalize tax evaders, despite the prevalent corruption in the FBR. Already, the government recovers additional tax from those who are not registered tax payers, as for instance when such people withdraw money from banks.
The government should increase the additional tax substantially, to two percent at least. A tax evader withdrawing or depositing a million rupees from his bank account would then have to pay a hundred thousand rupees to the government. Withdrawing bank notes of five thousand rupees and abolishing prize bonds of more than a thousand rupees in value would greatly help in reducing corruption. But seeing that every government has done its best to encourage corruption, we shouldn’t be surprised if hundred thousand rupee notes are printed and put into circulation in a few years from now.
By announcing tax amnesties every other year, the government is only encouraging more corruption. Knowing that they will be able to whiten their black money every couple of years, tax evaders will go on merrily looting the country.
The writer is former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. He tweets @shakirlakhani
Published in Daily Times, June 1st 2018.