ISLAMABAD: Despite expressing serious reservations about inflated expenditures, the federal government on Thursday conditionally approved the Diamer-Bhasha dam land acquisition project for Rs175 billion, which was triple the original estimate.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved four major projects costing nearly Rs250 billion, including in-principle approval for the Diamer-Bhasha land acquisition scheme, according to a statement issued by the finance ministry.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh chaired the Ecnec meeting.
The water resources ministry had sought approval for a second revision in the cost of the Diamer-Bhasha land acquisition project to Rs175.4 billion.
“Ecnec considered the Diamer-Bhasha dam project (acquisition of land and resettlement) and accorded in-principle approval to the project with instruction to the Planning Division to further rationalise the cost of pay and allowances component of the project,” said the finance ministry.
The project had been originally approved in 2008 for Rs60 billion. Then the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government revised its cost to Rs101 billion in 2015 because locals had not accepted the land acquisition price offered by the government.
But the water resources ministry again pushed the project cost to Rs175.4 billion, which was 291% higher than the 2008 price. On April 15, the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) referred to the Diamer-Bhasha dam land acquisition project for Rs175 billion to Ecnec.
Sources said the finance adviser expressed serious reservations about the surge in the cost.
Planning Minister Asad Umar was of the view that his responsibility was to the extent of resolving a dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments related to the Diamer-Bhasha dam construction. The project had been evaluated by a team led by the Planning Commission deputy chairman.
Shaikh objected to the 683% increase in the cost of pay and allowances. In 2008, Rs721 million had been approved for pay and allowances but in the second revised PC-1, Rs5.7 billion was allocated to cover the expense.
The land compensation cost increased only 105% compared with the overall three-time increase in the project cost. As against the original allocation of Rs26.4 billion, the revised allocation for the land is Rs54.3 billion. However, the resettlement cost, which was Rs9.3 billion in 2008, has now been shown at Rs67.7 billion, higher by 627%.
The finance ministry said under the project, 30,350 people being displaced from 4,102 households in the project area would be resettled while land spread over 35,924 acres would also be acquired.
Ecnec also approved the construction of the Lodhran-Multan section (north-bound 62 km) of N-5 and construction of two flyovers at the railway crossing at Lodhran Bypass for Rs12.4 billion.
Under the project, which will be completed in 24 months, besides two road flyovers, three interchanges at the Super Chowk and Permit Chowk, Lodhran, and an interchange at the Bahawalpur Chowk, Multan would also be built.
The reconstruction of the existing two-lane north-bound and construction of flyovers, interchanges, and area improvements would help reduce traffic hazards and congestion on the project road and after completion of the project, a safe, reliable, and efficient road facility would be available to commuters.
Ecnec also approved a project titled “Punjab Human Capital Investment Project” for Rs32 billion to strengthen primary healthcare facilities, introduce a conditional cash transfer programme to encourage the poor to access health and nutrition support, support economic inclusion for the young parents with children for poverty alleviation and expand and strengthen early childhood education.
The project, to be completed in five years, would be rolled out in 11 less-developed districts of Punjab, including Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Bhakkar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Khushab, Layyah, Lodhran, Mianwali, Muzaffargarh, Rahimyar Khan, and Rajanpur.
Ecnec gave the green-light to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Irrigated Agriculture Improvement Project for Rs30 billion for the improvement of 14,260 watercourses, installation of high-efficiency irrigation system for 10,000 acres, construction of 5,000 water storage tanks, provision of 500 laser land levelers, capacity building, strategic studies and value addition, and project management and monitoring.
The project, to be completed in six years, would be rolled out in all 26 districts of the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2020.
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