While the PPP remains averse to even talking about the Kalabagh Dam, let alone trying to achieve a consensus of the federating units over its construction, for fear of alienating the voters in smaller provinces, the Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar belonging to the party itself has recounted the project’s multiple benefits. Answering a question posed by MNA Sheikh Rohail Asghar (PML-N) on the floor of the National Assembly on Friday, the Minister’s written reply contained facts and figures that spoke volumes about the all-round gains that would accrue once the reservoir was ready and the massive loss the economy had suffered over the years, and was suffering, as a consequence of the shelving of the project. His Ministry’s assessment put the saving which the country would have made since 2010, at as huge an amount as $43 billion had Kalabagh been in operation. Indisputably then, the dam would have spared the fate that has befallen our economy. There would, doubtless, have been all-encompassing attendant benefits: regular power supply, normal industrial, agricultural and domestic activity, employment opportunities, greater food production, a measurable increase in the availability of water and a marked degree of flood control; and, the most important of all, reduced shortages would have had a beneficial impact on inflation.

In support of these views, Chaudhry Mukhtar stated that apart from the Kalabagh’s power generating units adding 3,600MW to the national grid, they would, ‘through conjunction’ enable the Tarbela dam to produce an additional 336 million kwh of electricity. In this way alone, the economy would get a boost of, on an average, Rs 46 billion annually. Besides, as the production of hydel power is far cheaper than the thermal, Kalabagh would go a long way towards bringing down the tariff, giving relief to the public and making our goods more competitive in the international market. The dam would store 6.1 million acre feet of water whose supply could be regulated for various uses downstream according to requirement. The Minister’s reply said, “Some floods will be absorbed by the reservoir and average flood control benefits are estimated at Rs 1.50 billion.”

It was a comprehensive statement that also spelled out the exact area to be submerged and the population to be displaced by the construction of the dam and, as it is already well known, Punjab would be the worst hit. But, then, the entire nation stands to benefit, including, of course, Punjab. It is, therefore, incomprehensible that while Punjab is eager for the dam to be built and would be ready to absorb the loss of land and relocate the population to be displaced, smaller provinces, mainly KPK and Sindh, which would also make substantial direct as well as indirect gains, keep opposing the project. Can one hope that with the technical data before them, the opponents would drop their resistance in sheer national interest?