Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian Link Canal, Raiya Branch to the Rescue

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In 1860, as the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC) took off from Madhopur near Gurdaspur, now in Indian Punjab, drawing water from the Ravi River, Raj administrators began to look into the distant future. As early as 1875, they devised the Triple Canal System to pool the waters of the Jhelum and Chenab with those of the Ravi through major canals. These were Upper Jhelum Canal, Lower Bari Doab Canal and, the last to be completed in 1915, Upper Chenab Canal (UCC), flowing from the Chenab at Marala, district Sialkot.

Wheat harvest in progress southeast of Lahore in the command area of the Bambanwala- Ravi-Bedian-Dipalpur Link Canal. Before the building of this great irrigation scheme, the area was part of the Lakhi Jungle and featured in many stories of Punjabi political resistance from the Middle Ages well into British times

About 15 kilometres downstream of its head, at the little hamlet of Bambanwala, UCC gave off two canals: the Nokhar Branch flowing southwest into the upper parts of district Gujranwala and Raiya Branch heading southeast to irrigate the country east of Gujranwala all the way to Shahdara outside Lahore. Near Raiya village, 70 kilometres northeast of Lahore on the railway line to Narowal, it swung on a south-westerly alignment to reach its terminus.


Looking out across the Upper Chenab Canal regulator to the gates of the Bambanwala- Ravi-Bedian-Dipalpur Link Canal. This is the only instance of a major canal giving off another major canal. [Note the six gates on the right with the older mechanism installed when the Bambanwala- Ravi-Bedian-Dipalpur Link Canal was just Raiya Branch before Partition]

Even as it was first built, the future of Raiya Branch was tied to two canals: one existing, the other still a decade away in the future. The first was the Lahore Branch that adds beauty to the city to this day and is fed by the UBDC. The other was the still-to-be-built Dipalpur Canal to take off from the Sutlej at Firozpur Headworks.

Years passed by and the desert regions of the Punjab slowly began to wax green as more and more canals cut across its pristine wilderness. Then came Partition, and the Punjab, together with its rivers, was divided between the two countries. The headworks at Madhopur and its canal, whose waters flowed through Lahore, went to India, as did Firozpur Headworks that fed Dipalpur Canal.

Under a six-month ad hoc arrangement following Partition, the old system continued to be followed. On the last day of March 1948 the agreement ended, both Lahore Branch and Dipalpur Canal of a sudden went dry. Even as wind-whipped sand scoured the dry canal beds, negotiations began between Pakistan and India to determine how to share the waters. However, deliberations dragged on, pulling in the mediation of World Bank, culminating in the Indus Water Treaty of 1960.

Back in 1948, as summer progressed, Pakistan got respite for another six months as water released by India flowed in both canals once again. Still, it was clear something needed to be done for a permanent way around the new situation on a war footing. The Chief Minister of West Punjab, as the Punjab was still known, Nawab Iftikhar Mamdot, ordered alternate arrangements to be made and the Irrigation Department went into top gear.


This may well have been the swiftest survey and planning ever to be done in Pakistan. Within days, work began at frenzied pace to upgrade the old Raiya Branch. It was decreed that from a branch canal, Raiya be converted into a full-fledged link canal with a bed width of 208 feet (63.41 metres) on exactly the same alignment as before. However, instead of petering out southwest of Shahdara, it was now to cross the Ravi and follow along the border all the way south as if headed for Firozpur Headworks. Short of the border, it was to deliver its remaining waters to Dipalpur Canal. This entirely new cut from Shahdara was 70 kilometres.

Apocrypha has it that Mamdot appealed to the people of Lahore that the city had to be defended against Indian aggression and the canal needed as a measure of defence. It is said that large numbers of men turned out to work gratis and the canal was completed “within days.”

Fact is it certainly took more than the few days of legend. In order for the canal to flow in the designed bed width at a full supply depth of just over nine feet (2.77 metres), the six-gate regulator at Bambanwala had to be extended by an additional 10 gates. A barely legible plaque on the regulator-cum-bridge gives the completion date as 1950. Nevertheless, when the Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian-Dipalpur (BRBD) Link Canal, as it was now designated, did flow, Pakistan was no longer dependent on UBDC or Firozpur Headworks to keep the Lahore Branch and Dipalpur Canal from running dry.

If Mamdot had asked the people of Lahore to dig a canal for the defence of their city, he was finally vindicated in 1965, and again in 1971, when Pakistan and India went to war. BRB, as the canal is commonly known, proved to be a formidable obstacle and played no small part in protecting Lahore.

That was one thing. The closure of the Lahore Branch would have destroyed a vast tract of agricultural land south of Lahore. As for the country irrigated by the Dipalpur Canal, there lay west of it the raised plateau that Ganga Ram had already watered with his lift irrigation system. To traverse the tract with channels in order to bring water to Dipalpur Canal could only be achieved at very high cost. Also, with dwindling flow in the Ravi, a new cut in the river near Lahore to water Dipalpur Canal was impractical. So it was that the BRBD Link Canal came to the rescue of just over three million acres of land that was at peril with India cutting off the water.

Architecture and gearboxes of the Upper Chenab Canal regulator at Bambanwala

It has to be said that irrigation engineers of the new-born Pakistan worked a miracle with the remodelling of the old Raiya Branch. One wonders, however, what would have happened and how long the miracle would have taken if the old branch canal had not been built back in 1915.

Previous: Begari Wah, Salam, Jekum Sahib BahadurJamrao Canal, The Dragon’s TailKhanki Headworks, From Primeval Forest to BreadbasketLower Bari Doab Canal, Boundless MagnanimityUpper Jhelum Canal, No Small WonderUpper Swat Canal, Defying MountainsSukkur Barrage, Fife Dream, Khirthar Canal, A touch of picturesque

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

1 Comments:

At September 24, 2015 at 8:15 PM, Blogger Tariq Amir said...

Very informative. You are preserving our many pieces of our history.

 

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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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