One of the most obvious questions that comes to mind when anyone mentions the Thar coal project is when is it actually going to see the light of day. From the time coal reserves were discovered in Thar in the 1990s to the year 2015, sceptics have remained wary of any so-called progress made on the project, laying blame on an inept provincial government. To its credit, aided by eager investors, the financing part of the project has now finally been sealed with a consortium of local banks agreeing to lend $500 million to the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC). The SECMC is a joint venture between the Sindh government and five private companies.
It is no surprise that a population starved for energy and flooded with unfulfilled promises of ending power outages will be cynical at any announcement related to Thar coal. Nevertheless, the project could prove to be crucial in fulfilling the promise of ending power outages and moving a step closer to seeing power generation from over 180 billion tonnes of coal lying underground in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan. It is quite ironic that an area so completely neglected by the Sindh government is now where initiation of development work has become so crucial.
Despite the importance of the project, the authorities need to take into account the consequences of underground coal gasification likely to contaminate nearby water reserves. While private companies have assured that emission guidelines set forth by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation will be followed, the Sindh government needs to make sure that this is indeed the case. It also needs to ensure that the financial close of the project is achieved in the next two months, as promised. Work on the coal mine and power plant would be completed by 2018 if hurdles are tackled efficiently. There is bound to be scepticism regarding the promises that have been made vis-vis the project, when one sees that the government handling the issues is that of Sindh, which does not exactly enjoy a healthy reputation to say the least. Sindh has remained a trouble-ridden province with the rural areas giving a true picture of the government’s incompetence. For once, we would like to believe that given the importance of the Thar coal project, the Sindh government will act differently with regard to it.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2015.