Basha Dam approval, a happy tiding

It is more of a happy tiding that at last construction of Dia-Mir Basha Dam project was cleared by Central Development Working Party (CDWP) and final approval will be given by Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC). The initial cost estimate of the project is RS.625 billion as the construction of power generation component has been excluded as of now. It will be built later with an estimated cost of Rs. 744 billion. Hence the total cost of the project is Rs. 1.4 trillion.

Dia-Mir Basha Dam project will be mostly funded through local resources as the international financial institutions and even China showed reluctance to help the country build this big water reservoir. The water storage capacity of the reservoir is 8, 1000,000 acre feet. The completion of Dia-Mir Basha Dam will reduce the silting rate in the Tarbela Dam reservoir and prolong its life and utility further. If the construction of power component does materialize, it will induct 4500 megawatt very inexpensive electricity in the national grid. The federal government will provide Rs. 370.2 billion from its budget in a grant which will cover 57 percent of the cost. WAPDA will raise Rs. 115.9 billion from its own resources as equity investment and it will borrow 163.3 billion in commercial loans.

The CDWP also cleared the construction of Momda Dam project, the estimated cost of which is Rs.303 billion, showing almost five times cost escalation over the past 14 years. Initially its estimated cost was Rs. 60 billion. It is largely a power generation project with a potential of generating 800 megawatt cheap power. Since the decade of 1970s Pakistan’s history about the construction of big dam resevoirs is not an enviable one as the civilian governments showed almost animosity to construction of big dams and reservoirs, voilating the provisions of Indus Basin Treaty. Pakistan could not benefit from its share enormous water resources as lower riparian country from the three westerly rivers of Indus, Jehlum and Chanab. The apathy shown towards the construction of big dams over the past 42 years and making the multi-dimensional Kalabagh Dam project politically controversial strengthened the stance of India in International Arbitration Courts in cases pertaining to the construction of controversial dams of Kihan Ganga, Baghliar and Salal.

The annual loss of water resources to the country has been assessed by experts worth 12 billion dollars which reflects the myopic vision of our leadership which pushed the nation to the brink of water and power crisis. Had Kalabagh dam been launched either in 1975 or 1985 it would have provided sufficient irrigation water for millions of acres of arid land in Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa., besides adding 3000 plus cheap electricity to the national grid. The issues of load shedding and circular debt would have not been that worse.

In the backdrop of CDWP clearance for Dia-Mir Basha project, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has announced that he will strongly oppose the construction of new dams on river Indus without prior consultation of all stakeholders including Sindh Government. The announcement came to fore when the country is bracing for water and power crisis amid lack of storage dams in the country. He argued, “Under the National Water Policy (NWP) no new water storage dam on River Indus is applicable until and unless a consensus is developed among all the stakeholders, particularly the lower riparian.”If this interpretation of NWP is correct then the policy is contrary to the supreme national interest. The political leadership had miserably failed to evolve consuls in the past on Kalabagh dam and the whole nation is paying a heavy price of the so called consensus mantra in the form of shy-high electricity prices and steep decline in the productive capacity of the economy.  National policies are framed and approved for the entire nation and not for a particular class of people or part of the country. Enough is enough; the federal government should make the construction of big dam- storages a national priority.

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