The Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) has agreed on a controversial multi-million dollar deal to buy two tunnel boring machines for the Neelum Jhelum Hydropower project.
Tunnel boring machines (TBMs) were not mentioned in the original contract being implemented by a Chinese company, however, the Chinese contractor came up with a proposal to use it without the endorsement of a credible foreign consultant, a followed practice, says an official familiar with issue.
As no international consultant recommended the use of the tunnel boring machines for the Neelum Jhelum hydropower project, Wapda managed to get the endorsement from a retired employee who now works as a consultant, official added.
The contractor proposed to deploy a tunnel boring machines for the construction of a 9.1km-long headrace tunnel to accelerate the progress and bring the first power unit online.
“The proposed acceleration of the tunnel construction by use of tunnel boring machines method will increase the project cost by around Rs16 billion,” says Wapda’s in house consultant and former employee of Wapda Abdul Khaliq Khan in a report available with The Express Tribune.
The 969MW Neelum Jhelum project, signed in 2008 with the CMEC/CGGC JV, initially cost $1.4 billion but the cost has escalated to $3.6 billion due to fluctuations in steel prices among other reasons.
According to officials of Water and Power Ministry, there are several uncertainties regarding the machines working in Pakistan. They questioned how the contractor will provide economically 10MW for TBMs to function and how these TBMs will work in Neelum Jhelum’s soft rock, siltstone, mild-stone and sandstone.
The convergence factors become higher when minor seismic events are a regular event. “TBMs will clearly facing the prospect of being trapped up to 2.5km below the surface and there will be several issues of dewatering,” official said that billion of rupees were being spent to construct 9.1km tunnel.
“Very high pumping capacity is required otherwise all is lost. If the TBM has ideal conditions it can give 20 metres a day in good rock conditions but Neelum Jhelum’s soil will not even permit 10 metres a day,” official said.
Neelum Jhelum Hydel Power Company Chief Executive Officer Lieutenant General (retd) Muhammad Zubair accepted that use of the machines was not approved at the start of the agreement, however, he pointed out that another group of foreign experts approved it later.
The group of foreign experts included a Swiss who mentioned that the machine is used in Switzerland where rocks are of similar composition, he added. The machine is also being used at 22 different sites in India. The machine will save us a couple of years and reap a benefit of Rs67 billion, added Zubair.
Sources claim that Wapda Chairman Shakeel Durani and Member Water Wapda Syed Raghib Ali Shah are the ones who pushed through the project.
The report was also submitted to a foreign consultant Golser who said “the project consultant endorsed the tunnel boring machines proposal although not in clear cut manner”. Responding to this observation, Wapda in house consultant Khaliq Khan said “Gloser is a university professor and any professor will always ask for some more information before making conclusions,” Khan adds. It also shows that the report was sent to a professor of a university and not to a proper consultant for endorsement, the report said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2012.