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SC orders forensic audit of Thar coal project

Updated October 19, 2018

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Dr Samar Mubarakmand says Thar coal project had not affected the environment. — Photo/File
Dr Samar Mubarakmand says Thar coal project had not affected the environment. — Photo/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a forensic audit of the Thar coal project, directing the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe the matter and submit a report within 15 days.

The apex court also sought a response from the Sindh government on the implementation of a report’s recommendations to avert environmental threats from the Thar coal gasification project.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar while hearing the suo motu case on the Thar coal project asked the Auditor General of Pakistan to carry out an audit of the project on a war footing and ordered the chief secretary of Sindh to take into safe custody all equipment and machinery of the project.

CJP regrets Dr Mubarakmand made false claims about the plant

The chief secretary was also directed to take photographs of all equipment and record the same in a register, besides preparing a report on payment of salaries to people associated with the project.

During the course of hearing, the CJP observed that the coal gasification project caused a loss of billions of rupees to the government. He noted that 100MW of electricity was to be generated by the project which was shut down after production of merely 8MW.

He observed that someone should accept the responsibility for the botched project which had caused a colossal loss to the country. He regretted that nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarakmand had made false claims about the project that it would generate 100MW.

The court was earlier informed that the project caused a loss to the tune of billions of rupees to the exchequer. It was informed that the coal gasification was likely to result in underground changes that might adversely impact the environment.

Justice Faisal Arab said the Thar coal gasification project had been abandoned as it was unworkable.

The Advocate General of Sindh told the court that the federal government had provided an amount of Rs4.5 billion for the project. He said the project was closed due to presence of water in coal that could have been damaging for the environment.

The CJP said the architects of the project did not take into account the risk of an accident that it could cause.

Dr Mubarakmand told the court that regular reports of soil tests were sent to the provincial government. He said the project had not failed, claiming that it had produced 2500MW of electricity.

The Advocate General of Sindh said the technology of conversion of coal into gas was there, but it had not been assessed as to what underground changes it might bring.

The NAB’s prosecutor general said prima facie the project was not viable.

Amicus curiae Salman Akram Raja said a claim had been made that the project would produce 10,000MW of electricity for 30 years.

CJP Nisar said false claims of generating cheap electricity were made and billions of rupees had been spent on the project. “Who is responsible of wastage of Rs4 billion. Will Samar Mubarakmand return the money or someone else?”

Mr Raja said the third audit of the project had recommended that no further funding should be provided for it, adding it had suggested that the Sindh government should give the project to the private sector. He proposed an audit of accounts of the project to identify irregularities in it.

NAB prosecutor Asghar Haider in a report said according to experts underground coal gasification was not possible.

Dr Mubarakmand said the project had not affected the environment. He said an Australian company was also working on the underground coal gasification, but left the country due to incidents of terrorism.

“I knew you would say this,” CJP Nisar said in response to Dr Mubarakmand’s claim. “When you made these claims, they were romanticised and it was said that free electricity will be provided, but the national exchequer suffered a loss of Rs4 billion,” he remarked.

Mr Raja and Shahzad Elahi submitted their written suggestions to the court. In the light of reports of the amici curiae, the court sought response from the federal and Sindh governments within 15 days and adjourned proceedings without announcing the next date of hearing.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2018