ISLAMABAD: The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) on Tuesday gave its consent to the Rs23.8 billion project for the installation of a telemetry system at 27 water discharge points of the Indus River but did not clear two other projects of more than Rs63bn because of a series of technical, financial and legal issues.

The meeting of the CDWP presided over by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Jehanzeb Khan discussed three projects related to the energy, transport and communication, and water resource sectors and directed the Ministry of Communications, National Highway Authority (NHA) and the government of Gilgit-Baltistan not to get back to the CDWP without addressing objections over the projects, most of them legitimate. These projects included Rs20.23bn worth of 40MW Hydropower Project Hanzel Gilgit of GB government and Rs43.007bn worth of Mashkhel to Pangoor Road including additional link from Pak-Iran border to Chedgai.

The CDWP recommended to the Ecnec for approval the revised project Installation of Telemetry System for Real-Time Discharge Monitoring at 27 key sites on Indus Basin Irrigation System” presented by the Ministry of Water Resources with a total cost of Rs23.835bn.

The project is proposed to be financed through the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) with a Rs500 million contribution from the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) from its resources for operational expenses.

CDWP defers two other projects over controversy

A similar project completed for Rs370m during the Musharraf government by the Water & Power Development Authority (Wapda) was handed over to Irsa after a few months of operations. The project subsequently failed for technical reasons and Irsa disowned its operations and closed following a long controversy among Wapda, Irsa and federal and provincial governments.

After almost 15 years, the same implementation mechanism is to follow for the Rs23.8bn project. In an earlier meeting a few days ago, the CDWP had deferred the project for several reasons, including increasing the number of monitoring sites from 7 to 25 and resultant cost escalation from Rs2.4bn to almost Rs24 and further increasing the sites to 27 and no fruitful engagement with stakeholders — provincial governments.

Officials said the project had been pushed through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) by the Wapda and that “all objections had been addressed”.

The project would ensure online, accurate information on water availability and flow at key locations through modern equipment, a data centre, and client workstations at key locations. This, in turn, will foster confidence, transparency, and equitable water sharing in line with government policies.

The CDWP deferred the Rs43bn “construction of Mashkhel-Pangoor Road (including an additional link from Pak-Iran border to Chedgai, Balochistan”. The 192-km road was routed through the SIFC by the NHA at an estimated cost of Rs29.95bn on Sept 22, 2023 as a “priority project” for connecting the Riko Diq Project with Gwadar Port. The CDWP did not clear the project on Oct 26, 2023 on the objections of the Planning Commission and directed the Ministry of Communications and NHA to review the project “both technically and financially, to economise and rationalise the cost in consultation with the member (infrastructure of Planning Commission) and Balochistan government” and should also provide feasibility study“.

Instead, the NHA brought the project back to the CDWP without complying with the previous recommendations involving over 53pc increase in project cost in a matter of three months to Rs43bn.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2024

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