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LAHORE: The government has handed over 2,000 kanals of the forest area of Punjab to a Chinese company for the construction of the 720MW Karot Hydropower Project. The project, part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is being executed by the China Three Gorges, by the Karot Power Company (private) Limited and the Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) on the River Jhelum.

“Actually, the land acquired for the mega CPEC-funded hydropower scheme was 20,000 kanals,” says a senior official. “Up to 10,000 kanal each was to be acquired by Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir governments. Though we acquired and handed over 18,000 kanals to the Chinese, but couldn’t get the remaining 2,000 kanals, owned by the Punjab Forest Department.

“Recently, the issue was resolved after the Punjab Forest Department was given alternate land near Chakri with some compensation by the Chinese to acquire the land for the project,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

According to the official, the cost paid by the Chinese was reasonable, and even sufficient to buy more land than the department surrendered for the project. Besides this, the department was also paid the price of thousands of trees. The official said under the law the forest land could only be provided for public purpose.

“So the government amended the law and transferred the forest land to the project in the public interest,” the official added.

According to a report, about 15 per cent of the construction of the project has been completed. The financial close of the project was done on February 22, this year after which the civil work was launched by the contractors.

“At present the construction of access roads, bridge, concrete batching plants, diversion tunnels, spillways etc is in progress at the site located at the dual boundary of the Rawalpindi and Kotli districts.

“It is a run of the river project that will produce 3,249 GWh annually on average. The design discharge of the project is 1200 m3/s and it will have four Francis turbine units. The total cost of the project is estimated $1.698 billion and it will be completed hopefully by December 2021”, reads the report.

The PPPB official said as per design of the project, all important structures and installations fall in Punjab. The project is being constructed by the Mangla Dam on the River Jhelum in Karot village.

“Actually, the right side of the boundary line falls in Punjab and left in the AJK. And the major structures such as power houses, spillways etc are being constructed on the right side, while the water storage lake falls in the areas of AJK,” he added.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2017