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PPP's Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) chapter on Sunday called upon the federal government and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) to address the concerns of the people of Muzaffarabad before commissioning the Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Project (NJHP) in the area.

The PPP also threatened to stage a rally from Muzaffarabad to Nauseri if the concerns of locals are not addressed.

Talking to a group of journalists at his residence in Muzaffarabad, PPP regional president Chaudhry Latif Akbar said that Wapda should construct water bodies along the course of River Neelum in Muzaffarabad and fulfil all other conditions laid down for the environmental approval of the mega project, before diversion of river water in Nauseri.

Wapda should also ensure the downstream discharge of 15 cumecs (cubic metre per second) in Nauseri, he added.

The NJHP, a 969-megawatt project, envisages the diversion of waters of River Neelum from Nauseri ─ the site of a composite dam located some 41 kilometres northeast of Muzzafarabad ─ through a tunnel system. The outfall of the tunnel is at Zaminabad, some 25km south of Muzzafarabad along Kohala road.

On October 13, the public health engineering department in Muzzafarabad had warned of water shortage after the commencement of the process of filling the composite dam.

A number of people took to social media to express their anger against the move, with some threatening to hold protest demonstrations.

The diversion was deferred by NJHP for a few days ─ reportedly, due to technical reasons.

The NJHP administration clarified in a statement on October 16 that River Neelum will not go bone-dry following the diversion of its waters to fill the composite dam.

“The impression that the river will completely dry up due to the filling of the dam, that the areas downstream Nauseri will be badly affected or that the reduced discharge of water will lead to a foul-smell are misdirected […] we want to make it clear that all the water of the river will not be diverted at any cost,” the NJHP administration had said.

It said that at least 530 cusecs (15 cumec) of water will be made available in the river.

However, the administration did not clarify whether this amount of water would be released from the dam site in Nauseri or if it would be ensured in Muzaffarabad after the inclusion of downstream tributaries.

The NJHP administration claimed that total need of Muzaffarabad water supply was just 35 cusecs (one cumec) of water and therefore there would not be a shortage of tap water in the capital city.

However, PPP regional president Akbar said that these clarifications appeared to be an eyewash.

“Let it be clear that we will not allow water terrorism [...] we will stage a rally from Muzaffarabad to Nauseri to stall stoppage of water,” he warned.

The NJHP administration had also stated that Wapda had spared Rs500 million since 2012 for the mitigation of possible effects on Muzaffarabad Water Supply project, and that the concerned department of the AJK government was required to initiate the scheme to remove the worries of the people in this regard.

However, Akbar maintained that Wapda should itself construct water bodies and a special water channel from Nauseri to the Water Supply Project in Muzaffarabad to maintain ecological balance and meet the drinking water needs of the state capital.

“If they can build huge dams and tunnels, they should also carry out these tasks themselves, instead of passing the buck on the AJK government,” the PPP regional chief said.

He made it clear that his party was not averse to the commissioning of NJHP in view of its benefits to the people of Pakistan.

“However, at the same time, we want this project to safeguard the interests of the Kashmiri people as well,” he said.

While asking the residents of Muzaffarabad to rise above their political affiliations and interests, he also called upon the AJK government to convene an ‘all parties conference’ on this issue within a month.

“If the AJK government fails to summon a conference, the PPP will host the same in the first week of December,” he declared.

Akbar alleged that the PML-N government in Islamabad avoided an agreement between Wapda and previous AJK government on NJHP, fearing that it might earn political mileage for the PPP.

“But today, there are same party governments in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. At least, the federal government should facilitate the signing of the necessary agreement,” he said.

He assured the AJK government of PPP's full support on the agreement, provided the same was presented before the Legislative Assembly for ratification.

Akbar also voiced serious concerns about the proposed 1100MW Kohala project, which envisages diversion of River Jhelum from Sarran village of Jhelum Valley through a tunnel system.

“Instead of diverting rivers through tunnels, why don’t you build dams," he asked Wapda.

When asked why the PPP leaders in AJK did not protest against Kohala project when its MoU was signed by their leader and then-president Asif Ali Zardari during his China visit in January 2012, Akbar claimed that the PPP had not allowed acquisition of land for Kohala project during its government in AJK.

He regretted that some people were supporting Kohala project for petty fiscal gains.