ISLAMABAD: Responding to opposition doubts about whether his government can overcome festering power shortages, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani assured the National Assembly on Friday of fast implementation of projects and said the foundation-stone of Pakistan’s biggest hydro-electric power project, Diamer-Bhasha dam on the Indus, would be laid on Oct 18.
The government says its remedial measures had eased off the latest power crisis with an increase in generation to 13,500 megawatts by Thursday from the dropped level of 9,000MW, which had intensified outages and sparked violent protests this week, mainly in Punjab. But on the fourth day of a lower house debate on electricity loadshedding that was extended to Monday, opposition lawmakers continued to voice doubt about the PPP-led coalition government’s assurances of sincerity in tackling the problem, which it says it has inherited from lack of attention to the power sector by previous governments of its opponents.
However, the prime minister, whose brief intervention came after a member of the government-allied PML-Q, Amir Muqam, complained about the reported stoppage of work on an under-construction tunnel through Lowari Pass in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said his government was expeditiously pursuing all power projects, whether it be Diamir-Bhasha dam, Thar coal project in Sindh, or the under-construction Neelum-Jhelum project and raising the level of Mangla Dam in Azad Kashmir. “We are working on all of them, and there will be so many projects during this period (of the PPP government) as had never been before and will not be (in the future),” he said rather rhetorically.
Mr. Yousaf Raza Gilani said his government had tried not to make Diamir-Bhasha dam controversial like the shelved Kalabagh dam, by taking the project, estimated to cost $12 billion and generate 4,500MW of electricity, to the inter-provincial Council of Common Interests for approval and now its foundation-stone would be laid on Oct 18. The dam’s generation capacity will surpass the country’s present highest of over 3,400MW from Tarbela Dam.
About the Lowari tunnel, where Mr Muqam said contractors had stopped work for non-payment of funds after an expenditure of Rs8 billion, the prime minister said he had already met the communications minister twice about the matter and that the required Rs2 billion would soon be released for the project, which is designed to ensure an all-weather road link to remote Chitrat district, which is often cut off from the country by snowfall in winter. Earlier during the debate, Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar invited house members from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for a meeting to discuss the problem of non-payment of electricity bills by consumers in the region. PPP lawmaker Yasmeen Rahman, who is also an active member of the house Public Accounts Committee, cited a strange argument of unspecified Fata consumers for non-payment of power bills that electricity had been “forced” on them at some time in the past when they did not want it.
However, a Fata lawmaker and former minister, Hameedullah Jan Afridi, complained of non-payment of any royalty to Fata for power projects located in the area and said Fata residents were paying some levies imposed by the local political administration as power charges. But Mr Qamar said any levy for electricity other than bills issued by Wapda would be illegal and asked the Fata lawmakers to sit with him to resolve the matter, to which Mr Afridi agreed after some words of protest over why it had not been done before. PML-N member and a former Balochistan governor, Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, said he was happy to know about increased power generation but wondered why it could not be done before. His party colleague from Rawalpindi, Shakeel Ahmed Awan, wanted an accountability of losses suffered and flight of capital to other countries because of power cuts over the past three and half years of the present government.
Yasmeen Rahman took the PML-N to task for policies of its government in the 1990s which she said had disallowed 16 private power companies to complete their projects earlier allowed by a PPP government headed by then prime minister Benazir Bhutto.