SHELVED KALABAGH DAM MARRING OUR DESTINY

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Sep 1 - 7, 2008

The Federal Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashrsaf had dropped Kala Bagh Dam project for ever as per his announcement of 27th May, 2008. The observers and analysts criticize the ruling party for this sudden and sad decision. PPP has its base in Sindh and Sindhi nationalism throughout has been against Kala Bagh dam. They opine that coalition with ANP in Islamabad, Peshawar, the second biggest coalition partner and PML-N in Punjab is still interested in Kala Bagh dam. Whatever has been the position, the World Bank and experts in Pakistan has throughout been supporting this project - rather they consider the site of the dam as the most ideal site for a mega water reservoir anywhere in the world.

The charges on the viability of this dam by the anti-forces have altogether been groundless, ill-founded and unfounded. Several studies were made. Every time its importance and utility became more and more viable and vital. Experts have mentioned KBD as the most feasible dam and ready to be constructed to fulfill demands of water and powers of all the provinces, irrigate several million acres of Barani land, prevent more than 38 million acre feet water flow below Kotri (Sindh) annually. Kala Bagh dam was thus considered to be the most suitable water reservoir for all the right and valid reasons. It is devastating and disappointing to witness Pakistanis fighting each other without any cogent and logical reasons. The Asian Development Bank's authorities aptly pointed out: "In Pakistan, the expansion of water sector investments is hindered by the lack of capacity for sector planning and strong management to take on new projects, and the frequent disagreement among the federal and the four provincial governments over the best way to proceed". The Director of ADB's Central and West Department, Khatsuji Matsunami, without mincing the words commented: "Sometimes it seems Pakistan is not one country, but several in a weak federal organization".

At this most critical hour when the people were groaning and reeling under the strain of energy crisis, water crisis, food crisis, wide-spread poverty, grave economic deficit and political uncertainties, dropping KBD project proposal reflects lack of sagacity and vision of the Government. Punjab was not to be the only beneficiary of this dam. As already envisaged, all the four provinces were to benefit from this dam. The present government came into power through a democratic process for restoration of democratic values as the nation had already exhausted its tolerance and was fed up with unilateral and dictatorial decisions, causing grave aggression and subjugation by one man at the highest rung of the power ladder. It is not known whether this decision, afterwards duly ratified by the Prime Minister, had received the concurrence of the Pakistan Peoples Party Central Executive Committee. It is also not known whether the PPP voters based in Punjab were at all taken into confidence. Moreover, is it at all democratic to take a unilateral decision in such haste on such an important national issue without discussing and deciding its importance in the National Assembly or Senate?

Is it a way to demonstrate to promote and accelerate the cause of democracy in Pakistan and re-introduce healthy traditions and tendencies for the posterity and ingenuity to follow? Does this reflect any vision or wisdom to solve the most serious energy problem and 8-12 hour power shut-downs? The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani, who belongs to Multan, in southern Punjab, has himself given his explicit concurrence to the demise of Kala Bagh dam, although it is the people of southern Punjab, who complain and cry hoarse for supply of water during the cotton growing season every year and cotton is the mainstay of millions of people of this country and raw material for our textile industry earning 60-62 percent foreign exchange for the country. Although majority of the PPP voters belong to Sindh and NAP in Federal Government and NWFP is also a coalition partner, the actual demand for shelving the Kalabagh Dam was not from farmers and common people. They were the regional national parties, whose political influence would have come to an end if KBD was constructed. Their opposition against the dam was an endeavour for their political survival otherwise the merits of Kala Bagh Dam were extremely in favour of the country. Veteran politician and Pakistan Muslim League leader Pir Pagara has strongly supported the construction of Kala Bagh Dam. He said that only a small lobby which had a tacit support of vested interests was raising hue and cry over Kala Bagh Dam project.

Moreover Pakistan's basic strength lies in agriculture sector. At present a little more than 54.5 million acres of land is under cultivation in Pakistan (including the areas under cultivation in all the four provinces) while still a huge area of 22.5 million acres is waiting to be cultivated subject to the availability of irrigation water. It is abundantly clear that water scarcity would not allow this to happen.

India is a permanent threat to Pakistan and is virtually engaged in hydrological war-fare against Pakistan. Violating the Indus Basin Treaty, India has already constructed and is still constructing several dams and barrages on Rivers Indus, Chenab and Jhelum, and making a grave violation of the aforesaid treaty. These Indian designs are meant to lead this agrarian country, Pakistan, to total desertification like Ethiopia. It has already given a heavy blow to our industry and economy. The present water crisis, food crisis, energy crisis and economic downfall are the results of the aforementioned violation of the IBT by India because of the criminal neglect of our unscrupulous and unwise past rulers of Pakistan.

In this scenario whatever may be the merits and demerits of Kala Bagh Dam, by all stretch of imagination, it is indispensable for Pakistan. Our failure to construct this dam has led Pakistan to an estimated loss of $1 billion or Rs.60 billion a year. Benazir Bhutto in her last tenure had shown her consent and interest in building the dam in view of its prospective benefits for electricity generation and irrigation water supply. Farooq Ahmad Khan Lughari, Dr. Sher Afgan and Ghulam Mustafa Khar during their regime were endeavouring to build a consensus over the time. The Chief Minister NWFP Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao had also given his concurrence; however, on the change of the regime the progress was halted. Mr. Wajid, Shamsul Mulk, ex- Chairman WAPDA and former Care-taker Chief Minister, NWFP had also been in favour of the dam by declaring it a viable and beneficial project. It may be relevant to point out that Mr. Shamsul Mulk belongs to Nowhsera city, which was purported to be submerged under the water if the dam was constructed. It would have been rather better to discuss the project in parliament than making announcement in the media contrary to the national interest and genuine interests of the people and the country.

The live storage capacity of the reservoir was estimated to be 6.1 MAF with gross storage equal to 7.9 MAF. Its hydropower generation was estimated to be 3600 MW.

Kala Bagh Dam would enable additional and improved irrigation supplies to all the four provinces within a short period. According to the study, the project will have a useful economic life of over 50 years. The project will pay back its investment cost within less than 10 years. Solution to our so many crisis including energy, food, water and economic downfall lies in constructing Kala Bagh Dam project by the sitting Government on war footing instead of succumbing to vested interests and regional political factions. If this dam is damned, history and our coming generations would never forgive us, especially those who would be responsible for this episode.