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Heavy ecological cost of coal power plant

Updated July 21, 2014

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Trees being removed from land purchased by the Punjab government for setting up the coal-fired power plant .— Photo by Dawn
Trees being removed from land purchased by the Punjab government for setting up the coal-fired power plant .— Photo by Dawn

SAHIWAL: Though the Sahiwal coal-fired power plant to be built near Chak No 76/6-R, Qadirabad, is expected to generate 1,320MW electricity to help overcome power crisis, it will have an enormous ecological cost too.

The first casualty of the plant to be set up on 1,002 acres of agricultural land will be the lush green vegetation in the project area.

It is learnt that total 9,302 fruit and wild trees will have to be cut down, 36 tube-wells and three water channels used for irrigation will be dismantled, along with flattening of 783 acres of farmland with standing crops of wheat, maize, cotton, before the beginning of construction work on the site of the power plant.

As a result of cutting such a large number of trees an uncounted number of birds will also lose their habitat.

The land on the right side of Lower Bari Doab Canal is being acquired by the provincial energy department from various private owners under the Land Acquisition Act 1894.

The land’s price was determined by District Price Assessment Committee (DPAC) headed by district collector with consent of 372 owners. Along with the land price, it was also agreed between the owners and DPAC that farmers would also be paid for their standing crops, forest or wild trees, fruit trees, watercourses and tube-wells before giving its possession to the department.

Dr Khalid Javed owns just nine acres of the total 2001 acre land being acquired by the department for Rs18.6 million.

Mr Naveed, Dr Khalid’s brother who is caretaker of these nine acres land told Dawn that there were total 150 mango trees, five Jaman trees, 49 Sumbal (Safada) trees and 550 guava plants on the piece of the land that would be cut down.

“I have given (cutting) contract to an okara-based contractor’, he said.

This reporter witnessed 20 workers ruthlessly felling lush green trees standing on Dr Khalid’s land. The contractor’s Munschi (accountant) who was supervising the felling of total 754 trees hoped his workers would bring down the whole green canopy within two weeks.

According to DPAC evaluation mentioned in its ‘Recommendation Report’ published on Jan 31, 2014, every land owner will be paid Rs4,054 per fruit tree, Rs1,118 per wild tree, Rs181,350 per tube-well, Rs57,492 per acre of standing crop and Rs75,449 per water channel irrigating the land.

District Collector Dr Sajid Mahmood said the amount was accessed and agreed between district government and 372 private land owners.

“It was decided in principle that the district government, keeping in view the standard, will evaluate each piece of land and pay additional money (for trees, crops, tube-wells and water channels) along with the actual land price”, the DC added.

This may be a good deal for those selling their lands to the department but definitely not for the ecology of the area.

Jawad Chishti, an Islamabad-based public policy environmentalist says the coal power plant will damage "vegetative cover" in the area naturally available in the form of trees, shrubs, crops and fruit plants, besides depriving the birds of their sanctuary.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2014