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Rivers and Link Canals of Punjab

Posted on October 30, 2006
Filed Under >Pervaiz Munir Alvi, Science and Technology
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Guest Post by Pervaiz Munir Alvi

The Punjab province of Pakistan is blessed with five major rivers and their numerous local tributaries. All of these five rivers originate from the snow capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains.

After traveling hundreds of miles through the high mountain valleys, these rivers ultimately enter into the plains and plateaus of Punjab via the Frontier province of Pakistan, the State of Kashmir, and India.

In fact, Punjab owes its very name to these rivers as in Urdu/Persian languages the word simply means ‘five waters or five rivers’. Perhaps no other area in the world could claim that many major rivers flowing through it in that close proximity of each other. In that sense Punjab is unique. But what makes it further unique is its river link canal system first devised by the British in early twentieth century and then expanded by Pakistan under its Indus River Basin Water Management System. The complex Punjab Rivers and Link Canals System could very well be classified as one of the twentieth century engineering wonders.

The Indus (Sindh) is the northern and the upper most of the five rivers. The other four rivers named Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej follow the sequence. Waters of these rivers are managed through a vast system of large earthen dams and reservoirs, barrages and headworks, and, irrigation and link canals. Each river is linked to the next lower river through canals originating or ending at these waterworks and thus developing a grid of rivers and their link canals in the process.

First major storage of Indus waters takes place at Tarbela Reservoir located just north of the boundary between Punjab and the Frontier Province. From this point on all the way down to the small town of Miran, with the exception of Kalabagh and Isa Khel areas, the River Indus roughly forms the boundary between Punjab and the Frontier Province. Within this course of the river numerous tributaries descending from the eastern slopes of the adjacent mountain ranges join the Indus. Most notable are the Kabul River that joins at Jahangira and Kurram River that joins at Kondal or Isa Khel. Both of these two relatively smaller rivers originate in Afghanistan and enter Pakistan via Frontier Province.

Similarly the waters of the next lower river, Jhelum, are stored at the Mangla Reservoir located at the boundary between Punjab and Pakistan controlled part of Kashmir known as Azad Kashmir. In fact River Jhelum as a north-south axis starting from Muzzafarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, to the city of Jhelum in Punjab forms the western boundary of the disputed state of Kashmir with Pakistan. From the city of Jhelum to the city of Khushab, the river flows westward just below the famous Salt Range.

The plateau of Potohar forming the land mass between Indus and Jhelum in this area does not provide terrain favorable for link canals between these two rivers. As a result the first canal link between Indus and Jhelum rivers takes place pass the Salt Range via Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal originating from the rather grand Chashma Barrage on Indus River near the Town of Kundian. The first barrage at River Jhelum is located near the town of Rasul from where it is linked with the next lower river, Chenab, via Rasul-Qadirabad Link Canal. The River Jhelum ultimately falls into River Chenab near the town of Mudduki. The Trimmu Headworks on River Chenab is located at this juncture.

The River Chenab enters Punjab near the town of Akhnur in Indian held Kashmir. Marala Headworks is located at River Chenab near the town of Dhallewali. Khanki is the next headworks on River Chenab near the town of the same name. Next is the Qadirabad Barrage on River Chenab near the town of Rasulnagar. Each one of these three headworks/barrages plays a significant role in the river-canal link system in Punjab.

The next lower river, Ravi, from point Maddoke to point Sidhanwali in Punjab roughly zigzags between Pakistan and India before it is firmly inside Pakistan. The first link between Chenab and Ravi is via Marala-Ravi Link Canal and Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian (B.R.B) Link Canal joining River Ravi at Sidhanwali above the town of Shahdara and Lahore, the capital of Punjab and one time capital of the vast Mughal Empire under Akbar the Great and then later under his son Jahangir. In fact Jahangir and his beloved Empress Noor Jahan are buried along the banks of River Ravi. The first headworks on River Ravi is at Balloki. The Upper Chenab Canal starting from Marala Headworks ultimately falls into River Ravi at Balloki Headworks. At the same time Qadirabad-Balloki Link Canal also connects the two rivers at the same location. The last canal link between Chenab and Ravi, before they merge together is via Trimmu-Sidhnai Link Canal ending at Sidhnai Barrage on River Ravi. From this merging point on the river continues under the name Chenab where Taunsa Barrage on River Indus provides the link between Indus and Chenab for the first time via Taunsa-Punjnud Link Canal near the historical city of Multan.

The last of the five rivers of Punjab roughly forms the border between Pakistan and India for several miles before it is completely inside Pakistan. The B.R.B Link Canal from River Ravi is extended to meet River Sutlej along Pakistan-India border. Sulaimanke is the first headworks on River Sutlej. Here Ravi and Sutlej are linked for the second time via Balloki-Sulaimanke Link Canal. While Islam Headworks, also on Sutlej, does not provide any link, the next and the last link between Ravi and Sutlej takes place at Mailsi via Sidhnai-Mailsi Link Canal. Ultimately the River Sutlej joins the River Chenab and together form a body of water commonly known as Punjnad. A headworks of the same name is placed at this monumental location. Just below the Punjnad Headworks the waters from the lower four rivers would join the Indus River to complete the merger of the five rivers and their tributaries. From this point on the story of the five waters and their link canals in Punjab is passed on to the, one and only, mighty Indus River that would continue its journey through the Sindh Province of Pakistan till it will empty itself into the Arabian Sea.

Punjab Rivers and barrages/headworks (total=12):
Indus: Chashma, Taunsa
Jhelum: Rasul
Chenab: Marala, Khanki, Qadirabad, Trimmu
Ravi: Balloki, Sidhnai
Sutlej: Sulaimanke, Islam
Punjnad: Punjnad

River link canals in Punjab and rivers linked (total=10):

Chashma-Jhelum Link – Indus-Jhelum
Taunsa-Punjnad Link – Indus-Chenab
Rasul-Qadirabad Link – Jhelum-Chenab
Marala-Ravi Link – Chenab-Ravi
Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian Link – Chenab-Ravi-Sutlej
Upper Chenab-Balloki Link – Chenab-Ravi
Qadirabad-Balloki Link – Chenab-Ravi
Trimmu-Sidhnai Link – Chenab-Ravi
Balloki-Sulaimanke Link – Ravi-Sutlej
Sidhnai-Mailsi Link – Ravi-Sutlej

Pervaiz Munir Alvi is a Ravian and trained as a Civil and Geo-technical Engineer.

60 Comments on “Rivers and Link Canals of Punjab”

  1. Samdani says:
    October 30th, 2006 1:48 pm

    The picture at the top is quite spectacular. I guess its a computer-generated depiction of the Indus?

  2. Roshan Malik says:
    October 30th, 2006 3:07 pm

    I believe that we have one of the best canal infrastructure in our country.
    Very informative post!!!

    I think we need to evaluate the environmental costs of Mega Water projects for sustainable development. Lot of areas once fertile are barren due to water logging and salinity caused by these projects. Displacement of communities is another important issue, which should be given top priority, as the communities affected by the construction of Terbela Dam are still suffering.
    I think, World Commission on Dams has established wonderful guidelines before the initiation of Mega projects. Terbala Dam is taken as one of the case studies in that report.

  3. Daktar says:
    October 30th, 2006 5:07 pm

    I had heard the term many times but had not realized that a LINK canal actually links RIVERS and not other canals. That is a pretty impressive engineering feat.

  4. Zainab L says:
    October 30th, 2006 5:34 pm

    oh Lord, geography!
    God bless :P

  5. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    October 30th, 2006 6:17 pm

    “oh Lord, geography! God bless”

    Zainab L: I am afraid it is more than geography. As the good Daktar said, “That is a pretty impressive engineering feat”. And also as Roshan Malik writes, “I believe that we have one of the best canal infrastructure in our country”. But if the essay helps ones geography of Pakistan, that’s fine too.

  6. October 30th, 2006 6:22 pm

    [...] Rivers and Link Canals of Punjab at All Things Pakistan The Punjab province of Pakistan is blessed with five major rivers and their numerous local tributaries. All of these five rivers originate from the snow capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. [...]

  7. bhupinder says:
    October 30th, 2006 6:54 pm

    I wonder why despite sharing the rivers, India and Pakistan don’t seem to fight over water (they seem to be fighting over practically everything else).

    Within India, I assure you, states are at loggerheads- if not at each other’s throats- on the question of water and the Indian side of the Punjab has a water table constantly going down.

    Anyone has any ideas on why India and Pakistan don’t fight over this issue?

  8. Fawad says:
    October 30th, 2006 8:15 pm

    Bhupinder: Water has caused fewer overt hostilities in recent history because of the biggest success of Indo-Pak diplomacy (supported by the World Bank); the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 (excellent case study of the treaty here

    However, there are issues of water already on the Indo-Pak conflict agenda: Wuller Barrage being built by India on the River Jehlum is the current hot dispute (Pakistan believes that this barrage deprives it of its share of water from the Jehlum under the Treaty). As the arbiter of the Indus water treaty, a world bank technical expert is already involved in trying to resolve the issue after India and Pakistan failed to come to mutual agreement.

    I personally think water will be an increasingly bitter source of conflict between India and Pakistan in the future. Water is becoming scarcer in South Asia, populations are growing fast and storage infrastructure has not kept up due to political opposition and lack of governmental resolve in both countries. This will continue to keep Kashmir the flashpoint of conflict (as the key source of water not just a battleground for ideology).

    I recently saw a news report somewhere that CIA believes water (not oil) will be the single biggest source of conflict and wars in the 21st century. Hopefully the world will start to pay attention to this problem early but who can be optimistic of governmental foresight.

  9. Eidee Man says:
    October 30th, 2006 8:34 pm

    @bhupinder, there were major water treaties signed between Pakistan and India some time back. Also, frankly, I think the Indian press is much too OBSESSED with internal Pakistani affairs having to do with terrorism.

    Just today I was browsing newspaper headlines on Google and I was disgusted to see the Indian papers’ reports on the military operation on the madrassa. Almost all of them reported on the incident and went on to criticise Pakistan for not doing enough!! It seems like the Indian media is having a hard time trying to produce enough “news” for a population accustomed to the absurdities of Bollywood.

  10. October 30th, 2006 8:35 pm

    Bhupinder, following on Fawad’s resposne, inter-provincial water disputes in Pakistan are as – if not more – complex and heated in Pakistan too. This is to be expected when provincial and national economies are as tied to water as they are in these countries. In particular, the construnction of new water structures have been contentious and acrimonious for political, economic, environmental and technical reasons.

    In terms of India-Pakistan relations, the Indus Water Treaty remains the single most effective instrument negotiated between the two countries; partly – I have argued elsewhere – BECAUSE the Indus water is so important to both sides. In fact, recent disputes over water structures on the Indian side proves the VITALITY of the treaty, because the dispute is being resolved within the treaty framework. This Treaty has survived even the lowest moments in India-Pakistan relations and is widely credited in the literature on South Asian politics and well as that on international negotiations as a model instrument.

    With apologies for self-promotion, essential aspects of this issue are discussed at length in my book Environment, Development and Human Security: Perspectives from South Asia, especialy in the chapter on Water in South Asia which was written by Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary Water, Government of India.

  11. October 30th, 2006 8:46 pm

    Fawad, while water has been a source of dispute and contention through the centuries, the sensationalist ‘water war’ thesis of the 1980s and early 1990s has largely been discredited, partly through the work of Aaron Wolf.

    The work of many authors, including myself, suggests that increasing water stress (in terms of quality as well as quantity) has the potenial to create and exacerbate conflicts, but most importantly at the local level (in both sides of the Punjab, for example, water related conflicts are amongst the most common causes of reported violent crime). In terms of inter-state conflict, while the sceptre of ‘water wars’ is often raised by journalists in relation to the Middle East as well as South Asia, in my book on South Asia (see above, Environment, Development and Human Security: Perspectives from South Asia) our 13 South Asian authors came to the conclusion that the prospects of a ‘water war’ in the region were very slim (if only because these countries have so much else to fight over! ;-) ), but water disputes will be exacerbated by other ongoing disputes.

  12. Ibrahim says:
    October 30th, 2006 9:15 pm

    Punjab from “Paanch Aab”, I suppose — Interesting essay..

  13. bhupinder says:
    October 30th, 2006 9:57 pm

    Fawad: Thanks. I particularly liked this insight:

    “This will continue to keep Kashmir the flashpoint of conflict (as the key source of water not just a battleground for ideology).”

    Eidee Man: I agree that the (Indian) media should also teach the two countries to fight over other things, besides the issue of terrorism. Fighting over the same issue can become boring besides having a potential adverse impact on the circulation of newspapers.

    Adil: Thanks, as always, for your deep insights. Someone should write about the success of this diplomacy (as Fawad has pointed out.)

    As a layman, I still find it a silver lining on the proverbial dark cloud. Perhaps there are elements in the Indus Water Treaty that can generalized.

  14. mansoor says:
    October 31st, 2006 1:40 am

    God!! that felt like a Pakistan Studies lesson!!! i almost started memorising the names of the various barrages and stuff!!!

    good post btw :D very informative :D

  15. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    October 31st, 2006 9:36 am

    “Punjab from “Paanch Aabâ€

  16. Owais Mughal says:
    October 31st, 2006 1:01 pm

    As always great post Alvi sahib. Looks like you’ve been working for agricultural department.
    In my life time so far I’ve got chance to visit Marala, Balloki, Panjnad and Taunsa barrages. Panjnad takes the cake among all. It is indeed the largest one. One can clearly distinuish water of different rivers by their different color. Before the national highway N5 was re-aligned through Bahawalpur, all the upcountry traffic used to go through Panjnad headworks and reach Multan via Muzaffargarh. This was before 1985. I’ve had numerous chances of passing through Panjnad headworks in my childhood. It used to be one of our much awaited milestones on our way to Multan from Karachi by road.

  17. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    October 31st, 2006 3:14 pm

    “As always great post Alvi sahib. Looks like you’ve been working for agricultural department.”

    Owais: I actually receive my inspirations from folks like yourself, Major Shirazi and Dr. Najam. But thanks anyway. No, I have never worked in Pakistan, not for any department. My fascination with rivers and river-works started very early on when our parents used to take us by train to Chaman in Baluchistan to visit our uncles there. The train would go through shuffling of compartments at Rohri junction in order to reassemble for its onward journey to Quetta. We would anxiously wait for the next event of our journey as crossing River Indus via magnificent British time Rohri-Sukhar bridge in the wee morning hours was a pure rush of adrenalin for me. I was hooked. Visiting and studying river-works came much later in life.

  18. Owais Mughal says:
    October 31st, 2006 3:23 pm

    Pervaiz sahib. I also have similar experiences as yourself. On my road and rail tours across Pakistan I always used to wait for bridges, rivers etc as milestones and always used to get fascinated by them.
    Your knowledge and research on Pakistani canals and waterworks is so thorough that I really thought you worked in agriculature department :)

  19. Farrukh says:
    October 31st, 2006 4:33 pm

    The irrigation system is quite an engineering achievement but as some have already mentioned let us not forget the environmental and social costs of some of these projects, including the ones being considered. Nature does not like to be messed with too much.

  20. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    October 31st, 2006 5:05 pm

    “Your knowledge and research on Pakistani canals and waterworks is so thorough that I really thought you worked in agriculature department”

    Owais: Construction and maintenance of river dams and reservoirs, spillways and power house, barrages, head works and canals are civil, electrical and mechanical engineering projects. In civil engineering they come under the specific disciplines of structural, hydraulics, geo-technical and even irrigation. Agriculture department is the end user of these facilities.

  21. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    November 1st, 2006 9:08 am

    Farrukh: All engineering projects have downside to them. One has to weigh the pluses and minuses of these projects. The relative economic prosperity, the power of the feudal lords, and the bulging population of Punjab, all ultimately are due to these rivers, canals and the land that goes with them. You are right, “Nature does not like to be messed with too much”. But the choice of do nothing will have its own consequences. Population control is one answer, but then again the ignorance of our people comes in the way. That’s why I say that education is the answer.

  22. !!!SuNnY!!! says:
    December 17th, 2006 6:33 am

    [quote comment="6044"]oh Lord, geography!
    God bless :P[/quote]……
    ya i also believe that geography is such an boring subject its studieng as like as crossing a Big Sea.

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