Neelum-Jhelum project’s tunnel could collapse, warns Nepra chief

Published November 23, 2022
A file picture of the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project.—Dawn
A file picture of the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project.—Dawn

ISLAMABAD: The tunnel of Neelum–Jhelum hydroelectricity project might collapse at any time and the consequences could be disastrous, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra)’s chief warned on Tuesday.

In reply to queries by senators at a meeting of the upper house’s Standing Committee on power, Tauseef Farooqui said the biggest worry was “what will happen if the rest of the tunnel collapses”.

He said electricity consumers were paying Rs 10 billion every month since the tunnel’s closure in July.

“If this tunnel remains closed for a year, consumers will suffer a loss of Rs120bn,” the Nepra chairman told the committee.

Senator Saifullah Abro, who chairs the committee, expressed concern over the state of affairs at the country’s key hydroelectric project, asking Mr Farooqui about the progress of rehabilitation work.

“Work is in progress to repair the damage, but there is no guarantee that the tunnel will not collapse at a later stage,” the Nepra chief observed.

Completion by June

Meanwhile, the project’s CEO said he was hopeful that restoration work at the tunnel would be completed by June next year.

He informed the committee that a team of international experts had submitted two preliminary reports after inspecting the tunnel. They have identified eight causes of the tunnel collapse, but no conclusions could be drawn before submission of the final report, Muhammad Irfan said in statement to the Senate committee. Mr Irfan said the root cause behind the damage was the pressure exerted by the mountain on the underground tunnel.

The committee was informed that the project had been completed without financial closure as it was situated in a disputed area and it was difficult to get international loans for it.

Senator Asad Junejo suggested the Standing Commit­tee call for “a thorough inspection” of the tunnel.

The committee was also briefed about the Nandipur power plant. The body’s chairman said issuance of fresh tenders and the bidding process for the project could have been completed in a month.

Senator Abro said not only the authorities at Nandipur power plant but even officials of the power division were unable to give satisfactory answers during the committee’s meetings.

Officials of the Power Division slammed the authorities at Nandipur power plant for not giving “relevant and updated answers” to their queries.

Members of the committee expressed dismay over the performance of Pakistan Electric Power Company and some even suggested that PEPCO be wound up.

The suggestion came during a briefing on K-Electric.

Saifullah Abro, the standing committee’s chairman, said “we will not let the electric company get away with its illegalities”.

“Why K-Electric has not returned Rs58bn revolving loan till now,” Senator Abro said. “Why do the utility’s high-ups fail to provide details of the government’s liabilities in revolving loans to the committee,” he wondered.

Members of the committee wanted to know why the contract with K-Electric had not been renewed, even though it had expired in 2015. He took exception to the absence of the K-Electric’s CEO from the committee’s meetings.

The committee decided to refer the matter to the Federal Investigation Agnecy if the CEO did not turn up at the next meeting.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2022

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