THE long-delayed Nai Gaj dam project in Sindh has been badly hit by cost overruns owing to inadequate federal funding. The dam was slated to be completed in April-May 2015.

According to a senior Wapda official, contractors’ liabilities now stand at Rs8bn. He says around half of the project has been completed though implementation machinery remains fully mobilised in anticipation of release of funds.

“Cost escalation always affects projects like Nai Gaj. The government faced with resource constraints, makes inadequate allocations and then insufficient releases. Actually, a project that is taken in hand must be completed on time to achieve its objectives”, Wapda Chairman Zafar Mehmood told this scribe.

Recent reports suggest that 47pc of the the dam’s physical work stands completed, and the federal government is said to have allocated Rs3bn for Nai Gaj dam in the 2016-17 budget that would mostly be diverted towards payment of liabilities of contractors. As a result, the actual project’s cost would remain uncovered and prone to escalation.

The multiple-purpose project is designed to provide water of rain-fed plains of Kacchho and Kohistan in Dadu, besides supplying water to Manchhar lake. It will have 0.30MAF gross storage capacity and a power plant to generate 4.2MW of electricity.

With half of the project completed, “contractors’ liabilities stand at Rs8bn”

The dam will ensure regulation of flows of river Nai Gaj Daj — the only source of water for local farmers — that supplies freshwater to Manchhar lake now affected by saline water coming from upper Sindh and Balochistan through Main Nara Valley (MNV) drain or Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD-I). Gaj is, in fact, a hill torrent that emanates from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district and after passing through plains of Kacchho, eventually enters Manchhar, which lost much of its biodiversity long ago.

Like components of Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) project, funded under federal government’s Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) Nai Gaj faces repeated cost escalation and is set for the third cost revision being estimated at Rs46bn against the earlier Rs26bn. RBOD’s cost, also, is about to be revised at over Rs60bn by the Planning Commission of Pakistan (PC). It was to be completed in 2006 at a cost of Rs14bn though it would now have a revised cost of Rs60bn.

Surprisingly, official sources said, PC didn’t approve the link — gravity main pipeline — that was to take water to Manchhar lake for the lake’s revival. For cost rationalisation, the PC had excluded a number of the dam’s components like internal roads, operational and maintenance (O&M) expenses, funds for residential colony and the gravity main pipeline.

The Sindh irrigation department had also pressed Wapda to keep the proposal of Manchhar’s rehabilitation intact in the project. Finally, in suo motu proceedings, the apex court called for ensuring water flows to Manchhar lake. So, now the same is again proposed in revised PC-I which is yet to be approved by the federal government.

Ghulam Shah Jillani, Sindh Assembly’s member from the area where dam is being built, is worried about likely changes in the project that affect lands in the dam’s south. He said that the dam’s canal that was to irrigate close to 4,000 acres of land has not yet become a part of project.

“Area between flood protective bund and river Indus remains dry for eight months and gets water in four months during monsoon season in the Nai Gaj area”, said retired Sindh’s secretary irrigation Ashfaq Memon.

Nai Gaj flows often devastate flood protective (FP) bunds and inundate agricultural lands when Manchhar lake is not in a position to receive flows after attaining peak levels of 118RL and it becomes imperative for irrigation authorities to empty it. An outlet was supposed to be built by increasing the carrying capacity of the lake’s connecting channels so that it gets flows from the river Indus and releases its own water in the river to protect the lake’s banks. This has not happened.

Gaj’s stored water is to benefit the lake’s rehabilitation, provided the saline water flows or RBOD are stopped. It would ensure cultivation of winter crops in Kachho and Kohistan plains where around 60pc of the population depends on it for irrigation water.

The dam will serve as a lifeline for the people of this mountainous region, that lies in Dadu, with the potential of changing the socio-economic conditions of the people. Around 28,800 acres of land are to be brought under cultivation through sustainable flows from the dam.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, July 11th, 2016