LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: As the World Bank once again extended the deadline for Dasu hydropower project funds utilisation, the government has finally managed to convince most of the project affectees to surrender their lands to facilitate the launch of main civil works without further delay, it emerged on Sunday.
Officials privy to the development said that a majority of the landowners gave an undertaking to a Hazara division commissioner-led committee that they would not demand an increase in compensation amount and for change of land category in future.
Located on the Indus River, some 240km upstream from Tarbela dam, in the Kohistan area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the 4,320MW Dasu hydropower project is being funded by the World Bank. For a third time, the deadline for utilisation of the project funds, which were approved in 2014, has been extended by a year due to slow progress attributed mainly to the issue of land acquisition.
“During ongoing extensive efforts, the teams formed by the committee held a series of meetings with the landowners / affectees by involving local politicians and notables. At the meetings, most of the participants were unanimous that there were some lacunas in the process initiated in the past to acquire land for the project. However, the teams noted their current demands and asked them to submit in writing on stamp papers with the undertaking that they wouldn’t demand more in future,” a senior official told Dawn. He added that a majority of the landowners handed over the affidavits to the committee members.
World Bank deadline for use of funds extended by one year
The official explained that a comprehensive report would be submitted to a steering committee that would finally forward the same to the federal government. It would be up to the federal government to accept the demands, approve and release funds in this regard.
The committee constituted over two weeks ago had been asked to compile and submit a report about the meetings, affectees’ demands, financial impact (in case of acceptance of demands) and recommendations within 15 days or so. However, it may take another month to file the report as it is currently looking into legal issues under the land acquisition act, powers conferred to the government officers under the law for resolving such issues, executives’ jurisdiction, limits of the project steering committee, award of compensation to the affectees etc.
“The situation is improving gradually, as the teams have succeeded in convincing many affectees. You can say that there are positive signs related to land acquisition,” added the official while requesting anonymity.
Another official said Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) actually needed a total of 9,875 acres for the entire project. Of this, he said, it urgently required around 1,987 acres for civil works and a colony, while the remaining 7,888 acres were needed for the reservoir and other purposes.
While 740 acres of the total 1,987-acre priority land had been acquired last year, he said, adding that the committee managed to receive undertakings from the landowners for the acquisition of most of the remaining 1,247 acres.
He said the committee played a leading role in resolving the land acquisition issue. “Hopefully, the ongoing efforts would bear fruits, as Wapda will soon get the land it requires for the project with immediate effect,” he said.
In view of the delay in start of works, the World Bank recently extended the deadline for utilisation of funds, approved in 2014. This will be the third one-year extension till Nov 20, 2019 through an amendment to the financing agreement between Pakistan and the World Bank.
The total financing of the bank is $588.44 million and an IDA guarantee of $460m with IDA allocation of about $115m.
According to a WB report, only 5.6pc of the allocation has been disbursed. It stated that land acquisition had still only reached 740 acres out of the 1,987 acres required for the construction.
The report stated that frequent interruption of work by project affectees delayed payments by Wapda to revenue staff and to project affectees. Other factors, it added, including lack of control on illegal construction, poor safety management by contractors and consultants as well as delayed decisions by Wapda on procurement or contract management contributed to slow progress on land acquisition.
A WB mission recently agreed to a number of short-term actions to expedite land acquisition and project implementation. These actions were discussed and agreed upon at the project steering committee meeting, which was jointly chaired by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister and federal minister for water resources earlier this month, and also at a wrap-up meeting with Wapda and the ministry of water resources on Nov 12.
According to the report, the government requested the World Bank to extend the deadline for utilisation of funds till Nov 20, 2019, and reconstituted the project steering committee with federal minister as its chair.
Despite these issues, the report stated some important progress on the project was observed with the access roads reaching the main colony area and the 132kv grid station. The contract for the construction of the colony has been signed, while access roads to diversion tunnels are complete and the main batching plant has been set up.
Excavation work for diversion tunnel, critical path activity, was also expected to start, but any further delay in land acquisition would result in a corresponding delay in commissioning of the first phase of Dasu hydropower project, the report pointed out.
While the total size of the project is 4,320MW, due to capital constraints faced by the government and Wapda, the project was proposed to be developed in two stages each further divided into two phases of 1,080MW.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018