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Kalabagh Dam: Handle with care

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From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
May 29 - June 04, 2000

It is advisable that the Musharraf goverment shoule give a comprehensive accout of its policy towards the Kalabagh Dam

Once again Kalabagh Dam is making headlines in the National Press. This time, however, it has come in a round about way. A written statement by a senior official of the Ministry of Water and Power submitted to the Lahore High Court last week through the Deputy Attorney General declared that "the government had realised the importance of Kalabagh Dam for the national economy and was pressing into use all available resources to take the project of the ground".

According to the statement the government was developing a consensus among the federating units for the construction of the dam which, according to the experts, was of vital importance to augment the badly needed water reservoirs and producing cheap energy to meet the ever increasing requirements of the national economy. The present drought in two provinces and overall scarcity of water has brought the importance of the project into limelight bringing it on top of the national agenda. According to the latest estimates of the government, as indicated in the written statement, the project will cost about 6 billion us dollars. Besides storing over 6 million acre feet of water for irrigation purposes the dam would produce over 3600 MW. Cheap hydel electricity. As Kalabagh Dam has become controversial its name may be changed to Pakistan Dam.

Moin Qureshi Advocate, in his capacity as a citizen of Pakistan, has filed a petition in the Lahore High Court charging the federal government of neglecting the national interest by abandoning the project of Kalabagh which was of vital importance to the national economy. In its written reply the federal government has stated that the project has not been abandoned. The work could not be started because of opposition from certain political parties on paracial consideration. Political government could not start work because of their narrow political considerations. The present government is trying to start work on this life saving project for the national economy as early as possible with consensus of the federating units.

The Kalabagh Dam issue has emerged as the most controversial subject in the 50 years history of Pakistan. A Multipurpose project, aiming to control and use flood water for irrigation purpose and to produce inexpensive hydel power—a purely technical subject falling in the domain of professional engineers—was discussed and debated by mostly ignorant politicians who opposed the Dam more for political reasons than for any technical defect in the project.

Kalabagh Dam has seen many ups and downs during the last 12 years when politicians ruled the country. whosrever came into power—PPP headed by Benazir Bhutto or PML led by Mian Nawaz Sharif, fully convinced of the usefulness of the project for the national economy, wanted to go ahead with the project but could not do so because of the opposition of some regional parties led by the Awani National Party (ANP).

The former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif announced a national agenda of his priorities in his historic speech after nuclear explosions in May 98. But soon ANP with other political group against or annoyed by Nawaz Sharif personally exploited the situation and started a anti dam movement. Main opponents are the ANP leaders of the NWFP who, after having been defeated on Pukhtoonkhwa, have found a new issue to settle score with their one time ally, Nawaz Sharif. They are also get support from all those vested interests who feel threatened by the national agenda of the Prime Minister aiming to take over all illegal land from their possession in violation of earlier land reforms for distribution amongst the landless haris.

The ousted Prime Minister, in the meanwhile, created so many other crisis for himself that he could not implement any of his plans. Experts are, however, unanimous about the imperative need to augment the water and power resources of the country and there is no better way to do the needful than have the Kalabagh Dam in place without any further delay. Addressing a press conference the life member of PEC and Incharge of Water Distribution Accord, Mehmoodul Hasan Siddiqui and another PEC member and Head of Hydraulics and Irrigation department of University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, Professor Abdus Sattar Shakir advocated the construction of Kalabagh Dam and said that agriculture sector require water while industrial sector requires prompt power supply at cheaper rate and both purposes can be served with the construction of Kalabagh Dam. Construction of Kalabagh Dam, with an approximate cost of 5.5 billion dollars would culminate in an average annual economic benefit of Rs. 33.2 billion to the government and would enable us to generate hydel power which is much cheaper than thermal and nuclear', they said.

Shakir said that Kalabagh Dam which, according to the new design, would be having a height of 915 feet above sea level, with a storage capacity of 6.1 million Acre Feet (MAF), water would be able to generate 2400 Mega Watt hydel power which can be maximized up to 3600. M.W.

Siddiqui said that in the Water Apportionment Accord 1991, there is an built provision for Kalabagh Dam as allocation of live water through our irrigation system has been enhanced from 103 Million Acre Feet (MAF) to 110 MAF which would be distributed among the provinces with a 37 per cent each of this allocation to both Punjab and Sindh while 14 and 12 per cent to N.W.F.P. and Balochistan respectively for agriculture sector promotion.

"But if we fail to enhance water storage capacity, then we would only be redistributing water shortage among the provinces which has been done with much difficulty in the past". He said that sedimentation process is gradually decreasing the storage capacity of Mangla (9.68 MAF), Tarbela (5.34 MAF) and Chashma (0.78 MAF) which totally comes around to 15.74 MAF.

They said that our rivers run with 150 MAF water out of which 43 MAF usually goes into sea annually and we could only be able to store 6.1 MAF water if Kalabagh Dam is constructed. About objections of the Sindh regarding ruination of land in the wake of abundant presence of salty water at sea coasts he said, still rest of the water that is 43 MAF-61 MAF would go into the sea.

There can be no two opinion that Pakistan is in dire need of efficient water management and supply of cheap electricity. Dams are the way to meet this need. But this dam has become a bone of contention, on the one side of which is the federal government and the Punjab, and on the other the rest of the three provinces, whose assemblies had passed resolutions against the project before the October 12 action. Therefore, it has to be handled very carefully because it has the potential to jolt the federation. The official statement before the LHC talks about efforts to build consensus on the scheme among the provinces. Hopefully, that is actually the case, although there is nothing publicly visible. It is advisable that the Musharraf government should give a comprehensive account of its policy towards the Kalabagh Dam before it erupts into another controversy.