BHASHA DAM

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

July 12 - 18, 2004

After a briefing on the various stalled water storage dams in the country and looming shortage of electricity and irrigation water, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared in Islamabad in May last "The work on a big water reservoir will start this year come what may". Indications are that work on Bhasha Dam may start in the next few months instead of much politicized Kala Bagh.

Facing a much tougher resistance from Sindh on construction of Kala Bagh Dam, as compared to NWFP, the central government has stepped up its efforts to initiate constructions of Bhasha Dam. The efforts of the center to develop consensus on Kala Bagh Dam have not so far yielded any result. The objective has become more difficult to achieve in view of Sindh province emerging as a more tougher opponent of the project. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Water Resources, Senator Nisar A. Memon has reported to the government his failure to evolve a consensus.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Senator Memon told newsmen that a panel of foreign experts has declared the $6.7 billion Bhasha Dam as the best choice on technical grounds and a lower human-displacement cost. He said that WAPDA had officially presented its report to the Committee on Kala Bagh, Bhasha and other dams wherein both Kala Bagh and Bhasha Dams have been declared technically workable projects. The government is considering to take up Bhasha first, he said adding the Committee was actively considering the prospects of holding a referendum on Kala Bagh Dam issue. He said the water issue has technical as well as political dimensions, and that people have their 'apprehensions' in this regard. The committee wants to tell people and the facts of the issue and that it was with this aim in mind that it has launched a media campaign.

He said WAPDA has given a briefing to the committee on various proposed big dams and other water projects, including Kala Bagh, Basha, Akhori and Taranzara dams, the Kutchi canal and the Greater Thal Canal Projects. According to report, Kala Bagh Dam will Cost $ 5.85 billion, Basha Dam $ 6.7 billion and Akhori Dam $ 1.6 billion. Kala Bagh Dam would have a water storage capacity of up to 6.1 million acre-feet (maf) and would generate 3,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Basha Dam would have a water storage capacity of 7.3 maf (1.2 maf more than Kala Bagh) and would generate 4,600 MW of electricity (1,000 MW more than Kala Bagh). Akhori Dam would have a water storage capacity of 6 maf and would generate 600 MW of electricity, while Skardu Dam would generate 3,500 MW of electricity. He said that the Kala Bagh Dam design and the feasibility study of Basha Dam have been received. The feasibility report on Akhori Dam is expected to be ready by April 2005. Taranzara Dam is at the pre-feasibility stage and the report is expected in September 2005.

Commenting on the Kala Bagh Dam, Memon said it is a technically viable project. But members of the parliamentary committee have raised several objections to the project. He said WAPDA would soon give a reply to these objections. According to WAPDA, if the nation evolves a consensus on the constructions of Kala Bagh Dam, work on the project could begin within a year. The dam's reservoir would displace 120,000 people. By comparison, the Basha Dam reservoir would displace only 24,000 people. The Akhori Dam reservoir would displace 49,300 people. He said the provincial chief ministers will be given a detailed briefing on the pros and cons of the various proposed dams, and that a final decision in the matter will be taken after the briefing. He added that President Musharraf had not given the committee any instructions regarding which dam project should be selected.

He said a committee of international experts which was set up to review the feasibility report of Basha Dam has declared it a workable project. Basha Dam would be built on the River Indus near the town of Chilas in the Northern Areas. The dam would pose no threat to Chilas and would not be affected by earthquakes.

Responding to a question, Memon told the press conference that no consensus had been achieved so far on the construction of the next big dam because every province has its own point of view on the issue. Punjab is in favour of building Kala Bagh Dam, while Sindh and NWFP have long been bitterly opposed to it. Given the contentions nature of the issue, Pakistan's best bet would be to go ahead with building Basha Dam, to which no province has any objections, leaving the resolution of the controversial question of whether or not Kala Bagh Dam should be built until later.

The constructions of new dams and water reservoirs is of vital importance to meet our growing demand of electricity at affordable cost and water supply for our land irrigation system as the storage capacity of Terbala Dam is decreasing with every passing day because of silting process.

Out of the 3 big potential water dams, Kala Bagh, Basha and Katzara (Skurdu) which on completion, can adequately meet out water and electricity requirements for the next 50 years, feasibility of only Kala Bagh is ready for the last many years. Work is in progress in case of Basha while Katzara is still a dream. There is no dearth of funds to finance these gigantic projects as the World Bank has already offered up to $10 billion in soft loans for water and power sector. It seems that despite its best efforts the present governments has not been able to build a consensus on Kala Bagh, which has become highly politicized issue hampering its constructions.