HYDERABAD: As the controversy surrounding the Thar Coal’s reservoir scheme escalates, the Sindh government has thrown its weight behind the coal mining project, emphasising that coal development will usher in national prosperity. “If we exploit Thar coal to generate coal-based energy, Pakistan can become self-sufficient in power generation and export its electricity,” said Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.
He expressed these views while talking to the media on Wednesday in Tharparkar district where he paid a surprise visit to take stock of the health facilities and reverse osmosis plants. He also visited the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) in Thar Coal Block II where the company’s chief executive, Shamsuddin A Shaikh, briefed the CM about the $2-billion coal mining and electricity generation plan.
The SECMC’s under-construction reservoir, spread across 1,500 acres, for storage of brackish subsoil water extracted from the coalfield in Ghorano village has stirred strong protest by local residents. They have also enlisted support of nationalist parties and some civil society organisations while some residents have challenged construction of the reservoir in the Sindh High Court (SHC).
“I know the depression near some villages has turned into a reservoir of the water oozing out from coal mines. I would not let them struggle alone; I am with them,” the CM assured. He said he is working to address the grievances of the villagers.
He said that the SECMC is building a village of 160 houses for the people who will be displaced from their villages near the coalfield. Citing the SECMC’s briefing, the CM said that 15% of the mining work has been completed and around 40 metres of sand, out of 160 metres depth, has been lifted so far.
“We are very close to materialising the dream of Roshan Pakistan of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto,” he exclaimed. He said the former prime minister envisioned the coal project in Tharparkar. “But some people played [an] irresponsible role and the entire project, which had attracted international investment, was rolled back,” he said, alluding to the ongoing protests against the reservoir, which are perceived by some to be opposing the coal project.
The chief minister also visited the airport being constructed in Islamkot taluka of Tharparkar. He said after some delays due to litigation, work has been resumed.
The SHC’s Hyderabad circuit bench, which has been hearing the reservoir case, ordered on Tuesday a renewed environmental impact study of the project by a three-member committee. It comprises former Hyderabad commissioner Asif Hyder Shah as chairperson and former forests secretary Shamsul Haq Memon and former additional secretary Fazlullah Qureshi as members.
Justices Salahuddin Panhwar and Muhammad Iqbal Mehar gave two months for the study. It will examine the distance between the reservoir and Ghorano and Dhukar Cho villages as well as the estimated population along the project site.
The petitioners, who belong to the two villages, claimed 15,000 people and as many livestock animals in addition to pastures, graveyards and cultivable land will be affected. During the hearing, the bench noted that development projects often cause displacement of people, who are accordingly compensated. The bench will resume hearing on December 21 when the petitioners’ lawyers will argue on the maintainability of their petition.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2016.