Those who disagree with the construction of the Kalabagh Dam are actually hurting the federation, former chief minister Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Shamsul Mulk has said. “The project is safe, and yet the country is suffering a loss of Rs132 billion annually due to the government’s silence over the issue,” he claimed.
Mulk was speaking at a debate on the Kalabagh Dam issue arranged by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industries (LCCI) on Monday. Speakers at the moot advocated the early construction of Kalabagh Dam, and said building the dam is necessary for the survival of Pakistan. If the government fails to take practical steps, poverty and hunger may lead the country to disaster from which it may not recover, they claimed. The experts agreed that those opposing construction of the Kalabagh Dam were enemies of the state and were playing with the country‘s future.
Shamsul Mulk said that, contrary to belief, there is no flood threat to Nowshera city from the Kalabagh Dam, as the former is 150 feet above water level. “Nowshehra was inundated during the 2010 floods, despite the fact that Kalabagh hasn’t been built. This fact is enough to silence detractors.”
Mulk, who is also a former chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), dismissed the incumbent provincial government of K-P; saying they do not represent the majority of the indigenous population. He said he could not understand why a project which will bring prosperity, economic growth and water availability for crops in K-P and Pakistan was being opposed by it.
The Kalabagh Dam was planned with an annual generation capacity of 12 billion units of electricity, costing of Rs1.2 per unit, he sain. Due incessant delays in the construction of the dam, Wapda fulfils demand by generating electricity using expensive fuel, which costs the nation Rs132 billion annually, he maintained. Taxpayers from Punjab pay Rs66 billion; from Sindh Rs30 billion; from K-P Rs18 billion; and from Balochistan pay Rs6 billion additionally. These costs have arisen due to the politicising of the construction of the dam, he said. “No one talks about this issue, which contributes significantly to circular debt each year,” he complained.
He said the Kalabagh Dam will not be beneficial to Punjab alone, but will also help erase poverty from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as it will bring 800,000 acres of cultivable land located 100-150 feet above the Indus river level under irrigation. He said this land can only be cultivated if the river level is raised – which is possible only if Kalabagh Dam is built. Credible studies indicate that pumping water for cultivating land in that area will cost farmers Rs5,000 per acre ever year; while irrigation using canal water after the construction of Kalabagh Dam will cost only Rs400 per acre, Mulk maintained.
He said the issue has been politicised to a degree that a consensus seems impossible. The political leadership is manipulating the issue for their personal gains, he accused. “Pakistan’s problems are not really the problems of Pakistani rulers; so they never make concrete projects for the country,” he said. Civil society will have to play a crucial role in creating a larger consensus, as larger water reservoirs will benefit every Pakistani, he concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.