A Rude Awakening1---It Is A River That Tells Many Tales2


But for the most part both in time and space, the Indus is cruel and as ruthless and cunning as only lion.^3^

An overview of the Report of the Judicial Flood Inquiry Tribunal**^4^** on the causes of major breaches**^5^** in River Indus during the "exceptionally high floods" of 2010.


1.1. "The Indus begins in Tibet, issuing from a small spring called 'the mouth of the Lion.' From its source, gathering water from innumerable glacier-fed streams and from several rivers as large as itself, the Indus rushes down a gutter running more or less directly northwest between the greatest mountain ranges in the world, the Karakoram and the Himalayas. Leaving Tibet in tears down to India. . . . from here on it is a Pakistan's river. Twisting and doubling through fearful gorges it finally breaks out of Himalayas. Then, for nearly a thousand miles, it winds and wanders across the flat plains of Pakistan to the Arabian sea.^6^ "

1.2. River Indus (Sanskrit Sindu = River, Greek Sinthos, Latin Sindus, Arabic Sindi) known as Abbasin ("Father River") to the Pushtoons of the North, Sind Sagar ("Ocean River") to the people of Punjab and as Mehran or Sher Darya ("Lion River") to the Sindhis in the south-flows through one of the most ancient stretches of the human globe, where fabled cities flourished more than sixty centuries ago.^7^

1.3. Indus is about 1,800 miles long with a drainage area estimated at 372,000 square miles. For the purpose of comparison, Mississippi river, USA in comparison is also 1800 miles long but has a drainage area of 1.25 million sq miles^8^ .

1.4. "Floods in Indus basin are of common occurrence . . . The more common floods, which have a greater total effect on agriculture, are due to monsoon rains and can generally be reduced in intensity by bunds and storage reservoirs. The inadequacy of engineering works and inadequate inspection are man-made causes of floods.^9^"

1.5. Bunds are patrolled during the rising stages of the river. At all danger points materials to deal with leaks or breaches are stored for emergencies. Particular attention is paid to the distance between the river edge and the embankment, wherever there is active erosion and the river approaches dangerously close to the embankment line, or within 1,500 feet of the toe of the embankment, a "retired embankment" (a supplementary or secondary bund) is planned at the end of the monsoon and the work is completed soon enough to ensure thorough wetting before the front bund is eroded.

1.6. "In general flood control problems are to be met by construction of reservoirs, embankments, diversion of flood waters into natural lakes (e.g. Manchar), swamps, or depressions to store and detain flood flow, and by soil conservation measures^10^".

1.7. Statistically, every five years a flood of exceptionally high level occurs in the Chenab, which is the flashiest channel out of all the five major rivers. Every ten years a major flood or exceptionally high level passes through all the five rivers. Every 15 years a super flood of 1988 or 1992 type occurs ^11^.

1.8. Design discharges^12^ of the reservoirs and barrages are as follows:

River Indus (at Tarbela)
Sr.No.Design Discharge2010
011,800,000 Cusecs835,000 Cusecs
River Indus (at Jinnah)
02950,000 Cusecs898,700 Cusecs
River Indus (at Chashma)
03950,000 Cusecs1,038,900 Cusecs
River Indus (at Taunsa)
041,100,000 Cusecs934,100 Cusecs
River Indus (at Guddu)
051,200,000 Cusecs1,148,738 Cusecs

1.9. Loss of life and property associated with flood has been colossal. In the year 1973 more than 3 million homes were destroyed and 160 persons lost their lives. The 1976 flood demolished over 10 million house while 425 lives were lost with losses amounting to Rs.6 billion. In 1988 an unprecedented flood occurred towards the end of September inflicting Rs.17 billion worth of damage to the country. The super flood of 1992 surpassed all previous records with the damage estimated at Rs.50 billion ^13^.

2. THE DELUGE^14^ - FLOODS 2010

2.1. Exceptional and continuous rainfall^15^ in the upper catchment of Indus River^16^ resulted in exceptionally high floods into Punjab^17^ at Khairabad (Attock) on 29 July, 2010. This aqueous onslaught caught the provincial flood managers unprepared and ill equipped. Surprise turned into tragedy when the watery offensive started eroding the Left Guide Bund (LGB) of Jinnah Barrage^18^. As this critical training arm of the Barrage began to fall, Left Marginal Bund (LMB) stood threatened. Beyond this earthen embankment (LMB) lay a large human settlement of Districts Mianwali, Bhakkar and Layyah almost unaware of the devastation underway within the protected confines of the Barrage.

2.2. Flustered, inexperienced and ill equipped flood managers fought a losing battle till a local cement company^19^ came to their rescue and supplied them the basis tool required for flood fighting - boulders and stones. This fundamental flood fighting material was astonishingly missing in the arsenal of the flood managers at the Barrage and amounts to a criminal omission.

2.3. By the time the erosion was arrested, Left Guide Bund had been eaten up by the rapacious flood waves and nothing remained of it. For the first time in the history of the Barrage, Breaching Section located in the Right Marginal Bund (RMB) was blasted open under the stewardship of the Pakistan Army but it could not save the LGB.

2.4. Roaring River Kurram flows into Indus as it leaves Jinnah Barrage (Kalabagh) for Chasma Barrage, adding to its ferocity. As a result, exceptionally high flood of 10,38,000 Cfs, far above the design capacity^20^ of Chashma Barrage successfully passed through under the able supervision of its flood managers (i.e., WAPDA). Chashma's performance must have temporarily allayed the fears of the nervous flood managers downstream at Taunsa. But the nightmare was yet to begin and the worst was still to come.

2.5. Indus charged downstream towards Taunsa Barrage^21^. Once again, it was received by the same breed of unprepared and ill equipped flood managers of the I & P Department. Before reaching the weir gates, the flood breached Left Marginal Bund (LMB), a partially pitched earthen embankment (bund), a rampart to protect District Muzzafargarh and its people, if ever Indus swell in anger. The breach in LMB took place at RD 32+000 (more popularly known as Abbaswala) unleashing 1,25,000 Cfs of roaring flood towards human settlement of District Muzzafargarh.

2.6. The unkempt and poorly watched embankment (LMB), which sat on an old creek fell due to foundational failure, giving thundering Indus an opening to surge ahead. The unmaintained, abused and neglected Sunawan bund - the second line of defense, could hardly resist the angry Indus, which went marching down into District Muzzafargarh, breaching the retention walls of Taunsa Punjnad (TP) Link Canal, Muzzfargarh Canal and ruthlessly damaging structures that came in its way. The tragedy had begun.

2.7. As the mighty Indus got derailed, it dictated its own course through human habitation brutally displacing people and their livestock besides damaging crops and buildings. The remaining discharge passed through Taunsa Barrage without causing any damage. Shuddered out their slumber, the flood managers stated to have worked tirelessly to tame the heady waters. Before the breach of LMB, the team of flood managers at Taunsa put up a fight on the right side of the Barrage in defending Spur No. 5, while the relatively less attended LMB on the left side of the Barrage, gave in.

2.8. At the LMB, the inexperienced flood managers saw the boils come out in the bed of Tibba Minor - a channel flowing along side LMB in that reach (RD 32 to 44) but failed to read and assess the piping action that had been set in motion from right under the foundation of the bund. Instead of covering the entire reach of Tibba Minor that flowed alongside LMB, they simply attended to the earlier boils at RD 35-36. As a result, the boils at RD 32 could not be contained and the LMB gave way. Even the dream team sent by the Secretary I & P, a night before, could not read the connection between the boils, the Tibba Minor and the LMB. Surely, a competent, experienced and a well prepared flood manager, who had read the Sind Bund Manual on boils coming out of the bed of an adjacent water course would have easily sensed that fatal piping action had begun right under the LMB and unless the entire reach of Tibba Minor was covered with sand and stones to shut down the exist gradient, LMB would fall.

2.9. Never has Indus met Chenab before the confluence at Punjnad, but flood created history, as Indus met Chenab at Shehar Sultan much before Punjnad.

2.10. Downstream Taunsa the flood breached Jampur Flood Bund^22^ in District Rajanpur and overtopped Fakhar Flood Bund, leaving Mithankot unguarded. Once again the flood fighting team at these Bunds were of no consequence. Their presence was as good as their absence.

2.11. On the whole the flood managers of I & P Department saw the

glorious Indus pass by, knowing little what to do. Even though they took pains to show us how zealously they had fought the flood - but to us it was no more that a bunch of inexperienced, incompetent, ignorant and nervous flood managers^23^, pirouetting and gyrating in meaningless frenzy - without any preparedness, plan, equipment or strategy. It appeared to us that the flood managers of the I & P Department had laid down their arms and given up on floods, thinking of them as a tale of the past. The failure in the recent floods and inability of the team of flood managers reminds us of a nursery rhyme called "Humpty Dumpty" which we read in our childhood:

"Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again."^24^

2.12. The ferocious flood left Punjab to play more havoc downstream.


3.1. To investigate the causes that turned this blessing (flood) into a tragedy, the Provincial Government constituted a Court of Inquiry referred to as the Judicial Flood Inquiry Tribunal in this Report. The investigation, analysis, findings and recommendations of the Tribunal are in the Main Report. This overview is just a flavour of what is to follow.

3.2. Flood Inquiry Tribunal was constituted on 1-9-2010 by the Government of the Punjab to inquire into the causes of breach of the major embankments namely: LGB at Jinnah Barrage, LMB at the Taunsa Barrage, Jampur Bund and the Fakhar Flood Bund and to fix responsibility on the delinquents besides giving other recommendations.

3.3. The Tribunal commenced proceedings on 15th of September, 2010 and concluded its Report after hearing the flood affectees, public complainants, the key departments, international experts and after carrying out field visits, detailed deliberations and in house research.


4.1. The Tribunal closely studied the construct of the "flood control" system in existence and its application in combating the recent floods besides evaluating the ability and capacity of the flood managers in coping with flood emergencies. The Tribunal stood removed from the popular departmental view that the recent exceptionally high floods were unprecedented, implying thereby, that breaches were a fait accompli and largely beyond human control.

4.2. The Report first zooms in to probe the immediate causes of breach and then zooms out to study the systemic flaws that have played a role in the recent chaos and failure. The Report concludes with policy recommendations for the way ahead in combating floods in future.


5.1. The immediate causes of breach have been a result of poor governance and mismanagement of the Barrages and Embankments by the I & P Department. At Jinnah Barrage the weir gates (right side) remained closed during medium flood generating pressure on the LGB. Absence of reserve stones made the flood fighting plan totally ineffective, till miraculously stones were provided by a local cement company and the erosion was arrested before reaching the LMB. At Taunsa Barrage, the confusing management structure under the PMO, violation of regulations and poor flood fighting resulted in collapse of LMB at RD 32-33 and then subsequently at RD 34-40. Jampur Bund breached at many places, once again due to poor maintenance, weak vigilance and shoddy pre flood preparedness. Fakhar Flood Bund breached due to over topping for similar reasons.

5.2. The popular notion that the breach of LMB at Taunsa Barrage was under political duress in order to save valuable land on the right side of the Barrage was not substantiated by evidence before us. Pond area on both sides, however, is encroached by influential locals^25^ of the area seemingly in collusion with the I & P Department.

5.3. Floods cannot be contained by artificial structures. Floods are to be considered as a natural bounty that brings agricultural fecundity and economic prosperity. They recharge the aquifers and enrich the soil. Flood Control is therefore a misnomer. Flood resilience, flood mitigation, flood risk assessment and management are the terms of the day - leading to an Integrated and holistic Flood Management Plan - which is the way ahead.

5.4. To our dismay, we found out that since independence, I & P Department, Federal Flood Commission (FFC) or the Planning Commission have not developed an Integrated Flood Management Plan for the country. FFC's National Flood Protection Plans I, II and III give a robust prefatory start but no more. These Plans are a huge misnomer- they are actually a compendium of flood schemes which are the brain child of the zonal irrigation chiefs and the local politicians. FFC has not injected any vision or drawn up a Plan of its own for the country - this is against its grain and the legal mandate it enjoys. FFC has, therefore, been a disappointment.

5.5 The closest the flood sector institutions got was to develop a DRAFT National Water Policy^26^ which simply carries a segment on flood management. Even the said Policy hangs in the air without legs of approval since 2005. Shameful neglect indeed.

5.6. The compendium of existing regulations^27^ dealing with flood management, in some cases remained unread and in others, recklessly disregarded by the flood managers.

5.7. The flood managers besides being reckless and complacent, did not possess the requisite professional education or experience to merit posting on a barrage or an embankment which demands best of the best. This questions the stewardship of the Department and its accountability mechanism by the Provincial Government. What germinates all this - mal governance, bureaucratic sluggishness, corruption, poor human resource, absence of research, lack of training, poor leadership, lack of political will - to mention a few.

5.8. While the official literature boasts our irrigation system to be world's best contiguous irrigation network - the main institution in existence for its management and supervision i.e., I & P Department, lacks the vibrance and the dynamism to lead the irrigation sector, in general, and the flood sector in particular. The reality gets more gruesome when we realize that the same department is incharge of managing, conserving and ensuring the sustainability of the world's most expensive resource - WATER, for us and our future generations.

5.9. I & P Department being the lead provincial department dealing with fresh water has little to show in the area of research and development (in the context of floods at least)- We were surprised to note that the I & P Department had not factored in climate change or climate variability in the flood fighting strategy or in their future water management strategy. Similarly, PMD and FFD being the principal weather and flood forecasters displayed blunted alertness and rusted alacrity in reading the weather. At a deeper level PMD and FFD have no cutting edge research on monsoons or climate change and seem to make little of the changing weather patterns in the country. We found our flood guardians off guard.

5.10. In this new world of climate change and global warming, of extreme weathers and innovative irrigation techniques, Pakistan seems not to have made an appreciable advance. We have failed over the last 63 years to develop our irrigation system to meet the requirements of the 21st century, to develop our most important economic resource i.e., agriculture. Our hill torrents- a valuable fresh water resource, which if wisely harvested is a cornucopia- but the hill torrents remain untamed and cause havoc almost every flood season.

5.11. If the Governments^28^ fail to develop integrated flood management plan in the coming years, monsoon rains coupled with glacial melt i.e., abundance of freshwater, will go to waste down the Arabian Sea- not to mention the ghastly havoc it will play when it flows downstream through the country. We need to store water for our sustainable development, for combating droughts and for the security of our future generations. This intergenerational equity is a scared trust. It is time to wake up and soon.


6.1. The report provides three sets of recommendations preceded by detailed findings. First set recommends penalties for the flood managers in the shape of departmental proceedings under relevant service rules and initiation of criminal proceedings under sections 166, 167, 283, 322, 427 and 431 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) along with immediate suspension of all the concerned flood managers and replacement of Secretary from the I & P Department. Second set of recommendations deal with systemic deficiencies like absence of flood plain and hill torrents management, weak structure of the I & P Department, ineffectiveness of FFC and lack of coordination between other key departments in facing floods. The third set provides recommendations for developing an integrated flood management plan adapting to the vulnerabilities of climate change.

6.2. The summary of the recommendations has not been provided, intentionally. We would like that the provincial Government and especially the I & P Department to read this Report in full. During the proceedings we noted that Government Departments think and plan on the basis of generic POWER POINT PRESENTATIONS and pay little attention to detail, depth and analysis. It is axiomatic that "devil is in the detail." The Departments will have to change-good planning requires far more detail, deliberation and thought. Government Departments and 1 & P Department in particular will have to move from generic to specific. Let this Report be a start.

6.3. We hope that this labour of love is taken as the second awakening. We could have conveniently concluded our Report after addressing the technical causes of breach, but then, we sensed the gravity and seriousness of the issue at hand (flood resilience) and the corresponding fragility and feebleness of the flood sector department and authorities. We, therefore, decided to go the extra mile to find the right construct, which can provide a permanent fix. We think this Report points in that direction. It is now for the provincial and national leadership, the policy makers and the flood managers to take up the challenge and up the ante.


7.1. We do not expect that this Report will be wrapped in secrecy and shelved in some dark confidential record room of the Provincial Government. What we wish and hope is that this Report will be widely circulated and boldly put out in the press and uploaded on government websites so that the flood affectees and public at large, who so eagerly participated in the flood inquiry get to know of the outcome of the JUDICIAL FLOOD INQUIRY TRIBUNAL. This Report might not heal their wounds but might provide some succour and relief.

7.2. It needs to be underlined that FREEDOM OF INFORMATION is now a fundamental right under Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. Therefore, this Report cannot be denied public access.

7.3. A copy of the Report shall be retained at the Judges' Library at the Lahore High Court, Lahore along with attached documents which spread over 91 appendices. After the Report is duly released to public by the Provincial Government, any person desirous of getting a copy of the Report or attached documents can apply to the Lahore High Court for a copy in accordance with law.

7.4. This Report is officially handed over to the Secretary, Home Department, Government of the Punjab by the Registrar of the Tribunal today in an open assembly at the Judges' Library at the Lahore High Court, Lahore.

7.5. Before parting, we would like the flood managers to remember that:


(Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah)


(Sd.) (Sd.)

(Abdul Sattar Shakir) (Shafqat Masood)

Member Member

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