Mission accomplished; Basha dam finally being built

The signing of the contract and the Prime Minister’s visit to the site, is of great satisfaction to me since I have been struggling for hydroelectric development and dams on the Indus  since 1975. What is reprehensible is that its construction could have been started after 1984, when its feasibility had been prepared. There have been several impediments as well as opportunities lost in these 36 years. These will be explained in this article.

The West Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority was established in 1958, recognizing that Pakistan had tremendous water and power resources. We were a small group of engineers in the Power Development Section of the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation in Karachi under that great man Mr: Ghulam Faruque, who was its Chairman. During that year the planning of the West Pakistan Power Grid, its Telecommunication system as well as the construction of Piranghaib natural gas power station at Multan was started.

We moved to Lahore on 1 January 1959 and WAPDA started expanding. In 1960 the

Warsak 240 MW hydroelectric dam and power station, built by the Canadians, was inaugurated by President Ayub Khan. This was soon followed by the gigantic Indus Basin projects, which consisted of the large dams Mangla and Tarbela, presently 1000MW and about 6000 MW respectively. We are also a number of barrages and link canals. Another large project was for salinity and waterlogging. The large electric power grid connected from Warsak the North to Karachi in the South with all the cities and towns in between by 132 kV and 220 kV. When Tarbela was built the transmission lines going to the south were 500 kV. This Grid required an elaborate telecommunication and control system, which was designed by us without any foreign assistance. It won praise from CIGRE, the International Conference on Large High Voltage Electric Systems Voltage, Paris and the Institution of Engineers UK.

From 1958 to 1976, in those 18 years we in WAPDA had completed $3.5 billion worth of projects. WAPDA was a world-class organization and an organization with officers of integrity. There were no Swiss accounts or Panama papers. As should have been the stress was on hydroelectric power; the hydel:thermal ratio was 70:30.

Designated Chairman WAPDA

In March 1972 I was designated Chairman of WAPDA. But I did not accept the appointment. In 1974 again when I went to see Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for permission to leave government service, he offered me the chairmanship again of WAPDA or any other organization of my choosing.

Conference on the Role of Hydroelectric Resources in the Development of Pakistan

In 1975 in Lahore we arranged the high-level “Conference on the Roleof Hydroelectric Resources in the Development of Pakistan.” This Conference was chaired by the Minister of Water and Power and attended by 200 Electrical and Civil engineers including the WAPDA Authority Members and concerned Federal Secretaries.Recognising our tremendous high hydro resources particularly on the Indus, in my keynote paper I had given two recommendations which were accepted by the Conference. These were:

  1. Since Tarbela was nearing completion we should urgently take up two major hydroelectric projects on the Indus, and
  2. To determine which sites and in what order the projects on the Indus should be undertaken, a Ranking Study should be undertaken by a reputable foreign consulting engineering company.

 Action on these decisions was delayed because in Genera Zia’s Marshall Law starting in 1977, economic and social development was not a priority. WAPDA’s new chairman after 1976 retired General Fazle Razak was different. He realized that major hydroelectric power stations cannot be built in the four years that is the tenure of the WAPDA chairman. Kickbacks could only be had by placing orders only for thermal power stations. That is what he did and for 15 years this continued by his successor two retired generals.

Basha ranked as the best project in the Ranking Study

But despite this, the 1975 high-level decision of conducting the feasibility studies on the Indus sites and the Ranking was carried out by the reputable Montréal Engineering company between1981 to 1984. They ranked 8 projects on the Indus and ranked Basha the best project technically and economically, and which would displace the least number of people.

But they did not include Kalabagh and that infuriated the Kalabagh Only lobby. They got another feasibility study conducted by another company, Binnies for Kalabagh. That study indicated that in 1984 Kalabagh would displace almost 190,000 people. With Pakistan’s population doubling every 25 years since then, this figure could reach 500,000 or more! How can even consider displacing such a large population be considered?

Mission for hydroelectric development

A country blessed with such large hydroelectric  potential should not ignore it. Therefore my lifelong mission for hydroelectric development started. In my articles in 1976 and onwards till the present, at the various conferences and symposiums as well as in the Press I stressed its necessity. More than 60 of my articles since then have been published in the newspapers in Pakistan.

Member Planning Commission’s Energy Working Group and WAPDA’s Vision 2025

As Member Planning Commission’s Energy WorkingGroup in 1991 1992, I presented a programme of 30  large and medium hydroelectric projects with hundreds of small ones. This together with my vigourous advocacy in the press and elsewhere, these projects were taken up in 2000  by WAPDA’s Member Water Sardar Tariq in their programme for water our development and called it WAPDA’s Vision 2025.  This was approved by the Chief Executive.Work was started on refining feasibility studies of a large number of projects. This also resulted in  enhancing the generation  capacities of the eight projects ranked on the Indus:

Basha 4500 MW, Dasu 4320 MW, Bunji 7100 MW, Pattan 2800 MW, Thahkot 2800 MW, Yulbo 2800 MW and  Shyok 520 MW.

Eventually  WAPDA was able to announce that the total hydroelectric resource of Pakistan was 100,000 MW.  WAPDA and other concerned organisations were able to produce 87 projects capable of producing 65,000 MW.

Missed opportunities

As recently explained by WAPDA Chairman General Muzammil Hussain  Basha dam could have been built 30 or 20 years ago. After its feasibility study had been completed in 1984, a few years later the Asian Development Bank offered $ 20 million to update the study. But this was not taken advantage of, otherwise  with our involvement in America’s war in Afghanistan against the Soviets, we should have prevailed upon them to finance it. The cost at that time was only about $3.5 billion. Then again with Pakistan fighting America’s War on Terror after 11 September 2001, was another chance to have it financed by them.  This is particularly so because by the end of 2005 Basha could have been started since its feasibility had been updated, with the engineering completed as well as the tender documents. But the Kalabagh Lobby prevailed upon General Pervez Musharraf and that did not happen.

But hydroelectric development was ignored because of corruption. Between 1976 to 1991 the three retired Generals were far more interested in lining their own pockets, for which thermal projects was the right avenue. The same happened in the governments that ruled Pakistan from 1988 to 2018.

Benazir Bhutto and the 1988 PPP Manifesto

In 1987 Benazir Bhutto came to see me in Peshawar. She said she had gone through Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 1976 National Development Programme. She said since I had prepared that programme she would like me to prepare the  PPP manifesto. When I told her that I was not a politician and that I could only prepare a development document, she said that’s all she wanted. So I prepared the 1988 PPP Manifesto, which is actually a development document praised even by the Paris Club. The reason I mention this is because because in that multisectoral Manifesto  I had quantified targets for the various sectors. It included a very large hydroelectric target. But again because of corruption it was ignored. Also because of my opposition to the exceedingly generous terms in the 1994 Power Policy and the BB  government’s promise on national TV to proceed only with hydroelectric projects was ignored. They found the kickbacks from thermal projects too attractive.  Of course the Kalabagh Only remained a pernicious factor.

World Bank and UNDP

In 2005 in their Study of the Water sector, the Word Bank appointed me to prepare my study for the Water Power sector. In 2018 I was asked to do the same by the UNDP for their Study on Inclusive and Sustainable Development.

Appointed Chairman Planning Commission’s Hydropower and Alternate Energy working group

In 2010 I was appointed Chairman of the Planning Commission’s Hydropower and Alternate Energy working group. In that too I was able to get our working group to emphasise the necessity of massive hydroelectric development.

My presentation at the Supreme Court

 Chief Justice Saqib Nisar heading a three-member bench was hearing a plea for the construction of Kalabagh dam. He was almost convinced to rule for it on 26 June 2018 and even suggested calling it Pakistan dam. But fortunately at the diplomatic reception on the same day as approached by the then Interior Minister Azam Khan and Activist Tahira Abdullah. They prevailed upon me to explain to the Chief Justice the history and the situation of the water power sector.so on 27 June 2018 I appeared in the Supreme Court before the Chief Justice and his bench. Fortunately Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan had briefed him of the danger to the Federation if the cogent objections of Sind, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were ignored.

I will not go to the details of my presentation to the Chief Justice but only mention a few points. I presented the history of water power development in Pakistan and a little bit about my role in it which is explained above. When I told the Chief Justice that we had 87 hydroelectric projects in hand, he asked: Are all of these projects controversial since no progress is visible? I said: No, they are all noncontroversial, all the provinces are agreed on all of them except one, Kalabagh. Is asking why the other projects being noncontroversial were not built, I explained there were two reasons. The first was the Kalabagh Only lobby, that have insisted for the last four decades that nothing will be built unless Kalabagh is built.

When he asked for the second reason I emphasized that it was corruption. It is for that reason that after 1977, only expensive and a polluting thermal power stations have been built over the last four decades/

I also explained to the Chief Justice the great advantages of Basha dam, its 4500 MW generation giving 18 billion units of electricity yearly, 8.1 MAF water storage, enhancing the life of Pakistan’s biggest power station Tarbela by 30 to 40 years and only displacing 34,000 people. As opposed to this Kalabagh’s 1984 feasibility report mentioned about  190,000 people to be displaced. Considering Pakistan’s population doubles every 25 years, Kalabagh would likely displace over 500,000 people, which cannot be acceptable.

It was after my presentation that Chief Justice Saqib Nisar started campaigning for Diamir- Basha and Mohmand dam, together with creating a fund for its construction. Prime Minister Imran Khan also gave his support for this great venture.  I was invited to talk about the subject on television talk shows five times. In these talk shows not only did I explain the history of water power development, but also clarified that the intention of the fund was never meant to expect the about $20 billion cost of Basha, Dasu and Mohmand would all be raised by contributions. But to get the people to realize the scarcity of water and the necessity of urgently building hydroelectric projects.

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