Oct 24 - 30, 20

The foundation stone of the much talked about mega power project of Diamer-Bhasha Dam was laid by the prime minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani last week which on completion would have far reaching impact on Pakistan's economy.

Inaugurating the construction work on the multi-purpose project to be completed in 10 years at a cost of about $12 billion amid sky-high mountains bordering KPK and Gilgit, the prime minister claimed that the present government was determined to launch development, which could not be undone in future.

It would not be out of place to inform the readers that it is the second ground breaking ceremony of Bhasha Dam project which the prime minister Gilani performed last week. The first one was performed by former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2006. It was a grand ceremony, which was also attended by this scribe as well. Speaking on the occasion on April 26, 2006 Gen, Muharaf announced that the multi-purpose mega project would be completed in less than estimated time of 10 years at a cost of about $6.5 billion. He also boastfully assured the nation by reiterating his pledge that besides Bhasha all other big dames including Kala-Bagh would be built under 2016 Water Vision of his government to meet the country's growing water and energy requirements. According to the general and his partners in the government, the pledge made to the nation could not be redeemed because soon after the country was gripped in civil strife leading to present government into power which undermined the whole program.

Now, although the prime minister has assured the nation that the same project, which he has inaugurated, could not be undone in future he has not explained how he is so sure about it.

Later in 2008, when the present PPP led government was in power and Mr. Gilani was the prime minister, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) again discussed the Diamer Bhasha Dam and decided to start work on fast track basis and complete it by 2016.

The decision was announced by Shaukat Tarin ex-financial advisor to the prime minister at a press conference that the work on the project will be done on war-footing basis and the project would be completed by the end of 2016 positively. The then federal minister for water and power also echoed the approval of the Ecnec in the House as well as at press conference amidst a big fanfare as some thing has been achieved. This happened in November 2008. The incumbent government took no action towards implementation of this decision for almost three years.

It was only last week that the prime minister inaugurated the construction work on the project which he described as a |lifeline project for the country, which he estimated to be completed in ten years, i.e. 2021.

The prime minister termed the project as the world biggest concrete structure which is to be constructed on river Indus that would generate cheap electricity and also enhance the life of Tarbela dam by another 35 years.

He boastfully termed the last Tuesday as the historic day in the history of Pakistan completely forgetting the fate of similar claim made by the former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf five years back.

In spite of all this depressing past, one should welcome the initiative taken by the prime minister and wish him all the success. While appreciating the state of work, we should also impress upon the government that every effort must be made to complete the project on schedule with uninterrupted allocation of funds. It has been a practice-and it applies to all the successive governments-that projects are planned and foundation stones laid but then the progress is halted as the resources are diverted to other heads and thus the cost escalates with the passage of time as has been amply witnessed in case of Diamer Bhasha itself which has escalated by almost 100 percent during the last 5 years.

Dams including Diamer Bhasha are vital for the economy of Pakistan, which has come down to the present shattering level because of criminal neglect of our successive governments during the last three decades. Had Kala Bagh, Bhasha, Neelum Jhelum been built as per schedule there had been no power shortage. Diamer Bhasha would be the third major power producer. It would provide 6.4 million acre feet (MAF) of irrigation water, generate 4500 MW of cheap electricity and bring a major change in the socioeconomic uplift of the people of Gligit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and in fact of every Pakistani.

The project would create thousands of jobs, development of infrastructure and give a boost to related industrial production because most of the material to be used would be purchased locally except for the power generation plants. So, the project has multidimensional benefits and need to be pursued vigorously.