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Kalabagh dam and court decision

December 08, 2012

THE Lahore High Court had been hearing several petitions (including the one by this scribe) requesting for a direction to the government for construction of the Kalabagh Dam to afford earliest relief to the people from violation of their fundamental rights by unending loadshedding and growing water scarcity.

On Nov 29, LHC Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial directed the federal government to construct the Kalabagh Dam in compliance with the decision of the Council of Common Interests taken on Sept 16, 1991.

This is a bold and laudable decision by the LHC chief justice. His decision has been welcomed by the people with great joy. It assured them of the much-needed relief from continuing violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, due to unbearable hardship of loadshedding, and water and food scarcity.

In fact, the current government had contravened the CCI decision of September 1991 by burying the project in May 2008. The court decision has irked some politicos. Their contention that three provincial assemblies of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had passed resolutions against the construction of the dam was nothing but a house of cards.

They conveniently forget that the decision by the LHC chief justice to build the dam was based on the fact that its construction was approved by the CCI in 1991. Secondly, we should be aware that the Kalabagh Dam is a highly complex gigantic hydraulic engineering undertaking.

To understand even the rudimentary elements of a multi-purpose project as the Kalabagh Dam and to pass resolutions based on judgment on their merits or demerits without technical help falls, with due respect, beyond comprehension of our members of the provincial assemblies and parliament.

None of the assemblies in question called for any briefing by competent engineers before passing resolutions opposing the construction of the Kalabagh Dam.

I have been associated with Mangla, Tarbela and Kalabagh Dams since June 1956 even before Wapda was built. I studied many more abroad as chief technical adviser to the United Nations.

In my technical assessment, economically and environmentally the Kalabagh Dam would be by far the best project on the Indus. It is the only river with surplus water to be stored in summer and released for irrigation of Rabi (winter) crops, predominantly wheat.

The Kalabagh Dam will yield live storage of 6.1 million acre feet. It will help irrigate at least four million acres of cropland. Water released for irrigation will be passed through a power house to generate 3,600 megawatts of much cheaper and environment-friendly hydropower as a byproduct.

Electricity produced at Kalabagh will be about one rupee a unit against Rs16 to Rs20 of thermal power paid by people. Water stored will be shared by all four provinces according to their fixed shares. Water power generated at the Kalabagh Dam will also be used by the whole country through the Wapda national grid.

With its designs and contract documents already finalised and with World Bank funding certain, first power units of the Kalabagh Dam, if implemented on a war footing, could begin supply of electricity five to six years after the start of the construction, much earlier than any other project on the Indus.

In short, only the Kalabagh Dam could afford urgently needed relief from crippling agony of unending loadshedding, water scarcity and skyrocketing prices, etc., in the shortest possible timeframe. We may name it Pakistan dam.

BASHIR A. MALIK Former Chief Technical Adviser, UN/World Bank     Lahore