THE ISSUE OF KALABAGH DAM?

 

Need to develop consensus

By SYED M. ASLAM
Oct 06 - 12, 2003

Should Kalabagh Dam be built? It is extremely expensive, offer limited benefits, have short life, is rejected by three of the four provinces and was shelved three years ago by the former federal cabinet of the President Pervez Musharraf who has recently vowed to go along with the plan.

One of the most important prerequisite for the construction of a mega dam like Kalabagh is the adequate and reliable availability of water and one of the top criteria for it is that it must have water four years out of five. Critics of the dam in the engineering sector say that Kalabagh does not fulfil this extremely essential criterion. They also say that the figures presented by the WAPDA about the availability of water is misleading because it basis it on the quantity of water whose roots are in India and thus unreliable.

Critics also say that the life of dam is too short and its cost too exorbitant to make it a highly uneconomical project. They say that the life of the dam is only 28 years once Tarbela silts because it is located downstream of Tarbela. In addition, since it is downstream, Kalabagh would in no way be able to improve Tarbela's life-expectancy. In addition, the Kalabagh has the lowest capacity inflow ratio in the world 0.26:1 once again resulting in short life span.

Professionals among the engineering community also say that Kalabagh is an unfeasible project geographically. They say that it has unnatural dam site narrow valley for storage and a long length and would allow to waste flood water without storing it to avoid desilting. It would store perennial water flaring up water disputes between the provinces and the storing perennial water, for power generation would affect the availability of irrigation water to crops, particularly to the lower regions of the country. Power generation by storing perennial water can affect timely irrigation which can have a disastrous impact on agrarian economy like Pakistan.

The strong opposition to the construction of Kalabagh Dam, however, in no way lessens the problem related to the scarcity of irrigation water in the country which becomes extremely severe at times due to extended dry spells in the last few years. For instance Tarbela Dam did not fill up till August 31, 2000 for the first time since its commissioning in 1974 falling short by 15 to 16 feet from its maximum level of 1550 feet.

The meeting of the then federal cabinet which decided to shelf the Kalabagh Dam plan was held on August 30, 2000 and was attended by then Punjab governor, Lt. Gen. (retd) Muhammad Safdar, Federal Minister for Environment, Umer Asghar Khan, advisor to the Chief Executive on Agriculture and Irrigation Shafi Niaz, and Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman. It was briefed by the chairman WAPDA Lt. Gen. Zulfiqar Ali Khan during which the participants voiced the reservations of the smaller provinces on the project. The representatives of the Sindh government raised questions over the supply of irrigation schemes by WAPDA asking to wait for few more years about the project so as to maintain the national unity understanding fully well, the strong sentiments that Kalabagh evokes in their province.

The meeting of the federal cabinet ended with a direction given to the WAPDA to identify the potential sites for the construction of small dams in all the four provinces so as to enhance water reservoir storage capacity for the future. It is easy to see that there is no disagreement about the necessity to build water reservoirs but there is no consensus about Kalabagh.

HISTORY AND TECHNICALITIES

Pakistan has 3 main rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Mangla Dam is located on the Jhelum river and Tarbela Dam on the Indus river. The absence of surplus water resource on the Jhelum river renders it incapable for housing another storage dam in addition to Mangla. On the other hand, there is no suitable site on the Chenab river where a storage dam can be built. The River Indus, thus, remains the only river with substantial water resource available to house additional storage dam, and even dams, besides Tarbela. Kalabagh is one such site which was identified along with Mangla and Tarbela.

The Kalabagh Dam is proposed to be located on the River Indus at about 120 miles downstream of Tarbela Dam, 92 miles downstream the confluence of Kabul and Indus Rivers and 16 miles upstream of the existing Jinnah Barrage. The site is a narrow and deep channel extending over 5-mile distance where the river is about 1,300 feet wide.

One of the major reason for the insistence to build a storage dam at Kalabagh is that it is the only option ready for immediate implementation supported by number of surveys and feasibility studies costing billions of rupees.

The planners and water engineers realised that storage dams are the only option to utilize the water resource of Indus river system for the future economic progress of Pakistan soon after the country gained independence in 1947. The Central Engineering Authority with the help of Dams Investigation Circle of Punjab Irrigation Department identified three sites suitable for large storage reservoirs by the early 1950s. Kalabagh along with Mangla and Tarbela was one of the three sites identified. Mangla and Tarbela were selected for Indus Basin Project while Kalabagh was earmarked for the next development programme.

In 1972, the work of preparing a proper feasibility report was assigned to Associated Consulting Engineers (Pvt) Ltd. of Pakistan. The company also appointed a board of international experts to review the progress at each stage. The experts were taken in various disciplines of dam engineering and from different countries, to benefit from a wide range of opinion in specialized fields.

The feasibility report, spread over 8 volumes, was submitted in 1975 and received a good response. Its copies were supplied to provincial governments and all other related agencies, in both government and non-government sectors. The overall reaction immediately after submission of the feasibility report was favourable. During the post-feasibility period of 1975 to 1979 reviews and consultations continued between at various bodies related to planning and the government finally took the decision that Kalabagh Project should be sponsored as a top priority project for seeking aid from international funding agencies.

Pakistan approached UNDP in 1979 for sanctioning of a grant to finance the cost of detailed engineering study of this project. It was approved by the UNDP which also nominating the World Bank as the implementing agency. The Bank sent its own appraisal mission in June 1980, who gave the approval, after a thorough scrutiny of the feasibility report and other documents and inspection of the site. They found the project "technically sound and economically viable". In February 1982 a joint venture under the name of "Kalabagh Consultants' comprising of Binnie & Partners of UK, Harza Engineering Co. of USA, Mott Ewbank Preece Ltd. of UK, Associated Consulting Engineers & NESPAK of Pakistan were fielded to carry out Project Planning, Detailed Design and preparation of Contract Documents for the Project.

The new group once again reviewed the previous work done and satisfied themselves with the major parameters of the project before proceeding with the detailed project planning study. In this phase, several research type studies and investigations were undertaken to elaborate various aspects of design, construction and operation of the Project. State-of-the-art techniques using computerized methods of analysis and modelling were utilized for the studies in this stage.

During the course of engineering studies an independent Panel of Experts, was also constituted by the World Bank, to progressively review the consultants work and to advise them. Members of this panel were eminent world experts in related fields and were drawn from different countries. In addition to the panel, specialists on specific subjects were invited from time to time for giving their views on selected topics, where needed.

An independent review panel was also constituted by the Government of Pakistan consisting of eminent Pakistani engineers to review the Project Planning Report. It consisted of Engr. Manzoor Ahmed Sheikh, Engr. Asghar Ali Abidi and Engr. Shah Nawaz Khan. This panel also concurred with the Project Planning Report and supported its recommendations.

By the end of 1987, all the reviews, refinements and clarifications were incorporated in the project scheme and properly documented. With this the project was ready to be launched in the construction stage.

THE CONTROVERSY

Perhaps the single most important reason for the strong sentiments that Kalabagh project invokes is the shroud of secrecy surrounding its planning. The critics say that the mega project favoured by a single province and the secrecy surrounding the planning, designing and implementation of the project has made smaller provinces extremely suspicious. They also say that the insistence to build Kalabagh in an era when big dams have gone out of fashion globally and when other possible alternatives are available is dividing the people at a time when unity is most essential.

Critics also blamed WAPDA for creating the controversy for failing to consult the provinces at all stages of the project from planning, designing and implementation till the completion of its detail design as late as by 1985. Otherwise, what could explain the strong opposition to the Kalabagh project in the late 1980s after receiving initial good response after the submission of feasibility study in 1975?

The statements from the responsible officials of the federal government have also created confusion instead of clarifying the issue. For instance, the government of Punjab as well as WAPDA first declared Kalabagh dam as only a storage dam to offset the storage loss of Tarbela and Mangla Dams due to sedimentation. Later it was promoted as a project vital for generation of inexpensive hydel power and still later it was announced that the project would also have Left and Right Bank canals for irrigation purposes. This perpetually changing additions and the ensuing confusion helped turn the project into a controversial mess that its in today.

The lack of public disclosure of all the relevant facts regarding selection criteria, planning parameters, design guidelines, cost estimates, environmental and socio-economic assessments, government's priorities, and financing mechanism of the planned construction have also added fuel to the fire. Also missing is the impact of the project on the human displacement in a country where tens of thousands of affectees of the other dams remain uncompensated after the passage of decades and also the concerns about the impact that would have on the environment and the surrounding areas. The situation is further complicated in a country where rows between the provinces about the equitable distribution of water despite the presence of Indus River System Authority, a high-level body constituted just this for purpose.