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ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Thursday ordered the National Accou­ntability Bureau (NAB) to investigate affairs of leading nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarakmand for wasting Rs4.69 billion in the ambitious but unsuccessful Thar Underground Coal Gasification Project.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar referred the matter to NAB with a directive to investigate the matter keeping in mind the auditor general’s report on the forensic audit of the project.

On Oct 18, the Supreme Court had ordered that a forensic audit of the project be carried out within a fortnight, with a view to analysing all the project activities, including operations and financial and human resources employed over the last 19 years.

According to media reports, the Geological Survey of Pakistan discovered more than 185 billion tonnes of lignite reserves in Thar coalfield in 1992, suggesting the presence of about nine billion tonnes of coal in four blocks.

The reserves are also estimated to have 850 trillion cubic feet of gas. Dr Mubarakmand launched the project to produce coal gas that was supposed to generate 100 megawatts of electricity by 2013.

Sindh’s Advocate General Salman Talibuddin on Thursday requested the court to order the federal government to take over the project, but the bench asked both the federal and provincial governments to coordinate and decide about the project’s fate in six weeks.

The report submitted to the Supreme Court by Additional Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti regretted that managers of the project could not even generate enough electricity to run their own plant and provide electricity to their residential colony. The ill-planned execution and poor monitoring by Sindh government’s energy department further impeded the operational activities.

The report said the management of the project did not provide all the requisitioned record. The audit discovered absence of the feasibility study (PC-I) and the environment impact assessment study by SEPA; splitting up of sanctions of PC-I to avoid approval from Ecnec; execution of the project without hiring a technical consultant; expenditure going beyond provisions in PC-I and the Work Plan Schedule; irregular award of tenders to a single bidder without any market survey; irregular expenditure on purchase of Syngas Generator and workshop equipment; unjustified acceptance of a bid for purchase of Syngas Generators; and irregular expenditure on drilling work and drilling rods, etc.

The audit report also noted imprudent and wasteful expenditure on purchase of pipes and valves; suspicious award of tender for purchase of water well drilling rigs; unrealistic calculation of per unit cost of power production; non-transparent recruitment of contract employees; unauthorised withdrawal of funds; and non-transparent payments to bank accounts.

The audit report suggested the project has totally been shut down while the employees have not been paid salaries since July. And no one has been deputed to look after or safeguard the project assets, like machinery and vehicles.

Although the Sindh government was earlier directed by the court to take over the project, no progress had been made in this regard, the report regretted.

Due to poor planning, the project had to face several issues during its execution and the absence of PC-I made it difficult to ascertain whether it was even viable or not, said the report. The procurement of machinery and equipment also posed a big problem.

On several occasions, re-tendering had to be carried out, which indicated lack of preparation. Due to the absence of a technical consultant, the project was never going to be completed on time.

Despite incurring an expenditure of over Rs4 billion, the project has not been able to deliver as per the objectives of the PC-I as over-ambitious targets become impediments in reaching project deadlines, according to the report.

The situation aggravated further when the project authorities failed to satisfy the technical appraisal committee during its visit in May 2012 regarding successful end-to-end cycle production. This created doubts regarding the viability of the project, the report said.

The audit report urged the apex court to order that projects of national importance must be deliberated upon thoroughly before approval of PC-I and feasibility study must be ensured in highly complex and technical projects before approval.

Similarly, the environment impact assessment study must be conducted by EPA to assess significant risks to the environment and that proper monitoring of project execution should be ensured for achieving the objectives.

The report also recommended that no subsidiary bank account should be opened in addition to the assigned account and that transparency in recruitment of employees should be ensured.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018