• PM announces plans to build more dams
• Pledges to talk to CM for SOPs before reopening of tourism
• Aide says project to generate 4,500MW, create 16,000 jobs
• Imran, army chief, ministers visit project site
GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday launched the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and announced that the government would move towards building more dams on rivers to generate low-cost hydel power.
While addressing a public gathering in Chilas, the district headquarters of Diamer, after visiting the dam site along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and federal ministers Ali Amin Gandapur and Faisal Vawda, PM Khan said: “The decision to build this dam was taken 50 years ago. There can be no better site for constructing a dam, it is a natural dam. Forty or 50 years ago this was decided, and work on the project has begun today. This is one of the biggest reasons why we haven’t progressed.”
The 6.4 million acre feet water reservoir would not only add 1.2m acres of agriculture and 4,500 megawatts environment-friendly electricity, it would also boost steel, cement and construction industry by creating 16,000 jobs, said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa in a tweet.
The prime minister told the people of Gilgit-Baltistan that the project would generate job opportunities for the people living in the region. He said generating electricity from water instead of furnace oil or coal would prevent negative impacts of global warming and climate change. “The benefits are dual. We won’t have to import fuel and it won’t affect our climate negatively,” he added.
He said the country would neither have to import fuel for this project nor would add to the global warming problems of the country.
He said the government was going towards building the “biggest dam in Pakistan’s history”, explaining that this would the country’s third big dam.
“China has made around 5,000 big dams, but have a total of about 80,000 dams. From this, you can gauge the massive mistakes we have made in the past,” said the premier before announcing that the government would start building more dams on rivers, which would lessen pressure on foreign exchange and allow Pakistan to generate energy.
“The decisions made in the 1990s to generate electricity using imported furnace oil affected our current account deficit. When there is pressure on foreign exchange, economic conditions start deteriorating,” he said, adding that his government inherited a current account deficit of Rs20 billion. He explained that the value of the rupee started falling after the country started using imported oil to generate electricity and when the rupee depreciated, all imports became more expensive and inflation rose.
About the demand for reopening tourism that has been severely impacted in Gilgit-Baltistan by the Covid-19 pandemic, the PM said: “I am familiar with GB and have visited Chilas on multiple occasions in the past 30 years. I am well aware how much the area depends on tourism and how much they need tourism during the summer months.” He said he would speak to the GB caretaker chief minister to prepare standard operating procedures for reopening the tourism industry.
“We can learn from the world, tourism is slowly resuming. It won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic hit, but we can start opening it slowly and start developing SOPs for it,” Mr Khan said, expressing the hope that the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) would also extend help in this regard.
Mr Khan said: “We didn’t increase your [GB] budget out of obligation. It is our government’s policy to prioritise those areas that have been left behind. So far, our development has been restricted to a few cities. We will be left behind until we spend on uplifting less-developed areas. Therefore, the government is investing in GB, merged [tribal] districts and Balochistan.”
He said nations only progressed when they thought of the future and when they invested in their resources, uplifting those segments of society that had been left behind.
Caretaker chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan Mir Afzal, Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon and local leadership of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf were in attendance.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020