Political leaders and environmentalists have expressed concern over the drying up of water springs as a result of boring of two tunnels for a power project in Neelum-Jhelum valley.
“At least 600 water springs have vanished as a result of boring of the tunnels,” said Leader of the Opposition in Azad Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly, Farooq Haider Khan, while talking to media persons at an Iftar dinner recently. The drying up of water springs has deprived several villages of natural drinking water, he said, adding that the direction of underground water has also changed as a result.
Khan was of the view that before initiating the project, it should have been debated in the assembly and its impact on the environment and people’s lives assessed.
Meanwhile, Raja Muhammad Wasim, an environmentalist, told The Express Tribune that a population of over 20,000 has been deprived of water due to drying up of the springs. He said that the affected people are being forced to bring water from other, faraway places.
Moreover, he suggested launching a water treatment plant in the area by lifting water from the Jhelum River for onward supply to the affected communities and re-plantation at the project site to avert erosion of the soil dug out for the project. Otherwise, he feared that the soil from the project area will be swept away by water to Mangla Dam and cause rapid silting in the reservoir.
Earlier, Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf inaugurated two tunnel boring machines at one of the sites of the 969MW Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project being built near Thotha Majoi, 22km south of Muzaffarabad. The project is being completed with the assistance of Chinese and other international companies. Once complete, the project will contribute about 5.15 billion units of electricity per annum to the national grid once complete.
Annual benefits of the project have been estimated at about Rs45 billion, while the project will pay back its cost in about seven years.
Khan, who is also the head of Muslim League-Nawaz AJK chapter, pointed out that the PM Ashraf did not announce any incentive for the people affected by the Neelum-Jhelum power project, or by Mangla Dam. He termed the incentives given so far to the people of Mirpur an “eye wash”. He suggested that instead of giving royalty for Mangla Dam, the AJK government should be provided profits from the electricity being generated by the dam’s power house.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2012.
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