MITHI   -    Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday inaugurated a major coal-based power project based in Sindh’s Tharparkar area, and proudly called it “highest man-made structure in Pakistan”.

“Today, the PPP has showed its belief in delivering to the masses,” he said in his address to the inauguration ceremony of the plant which is part of CPEC mega project.

“This project and its success is a milestone for all of Pakistan. The PPP and Sindh government have set an example for all other political parties of this country that keep making tall claims without any actual achievements,” he said.

The PPP leader said that the 660-megawatt (MW) Engro Powergen Thar Private Ltd (EPTL) project was also a validation of the 18th Amendment and shows what provinces can achieve when they have right to use their resources.

The project was also a testament to the success of the public-private partnership model that was introduced in the country by his mother late Premier Benzair Bhutto in her 1993 manifesto and which the PPP had aggressively pursued over recent years, he said.

Earlier, Bilawal conducted a visit of the project including the power generation plants and the coalfields providing the fuel source. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah welcomed him at the Thar Coal Field Block-II.

Situated around 390 kilometres east of Karachi, the power station is part of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that involves building new infrastructure to help turn Pakistan into a major overland route linking China to the wider region.

Test run operations were started towards the end of March at the power station’s two 330-megawatt units, which will burn domestic lignite – a cheap but polluting energy source.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the plant’s project manager, Faisal Shafiq, said the station’s first unit was connected to the power grid in March and the second unit will be connected this month. Commercial operations are expected to formally commence from June, he said.

Before delivering his speech, Bilawal took to twitter to announce that he had inaugurated the power plant, which he described as the “highest man-made structure in Pakistan”.

Later in his address, he said, “I am happy that the fruit of your [people of Sindh’s] blood, sweat and tears is being added to the national grid.”

The PPP chairman, on the occasion, announced that Sindh government will provide free electricity to the residents of Islamkot and some other parts of Thar district once the project starts running. This was the least the PPP government could do to help poor Tharis, he added.

“These are the measures that one expects in a welfare state and in [a true] ‘Naya Pakistan’. The PPP is the only political party that has consistently delivered on its promises and we will continue to work for the uplift of Pakistan and its people,” he said.

He also pledged the establishment of a campus of NED University of Engineering and Technology in the desert district. “The engineering disciplines that will be taught at the university will benefit the dwellers of Thar greatly,” he said.

Talking about those affected by the coal project, the PPP leader said that he visited the housing society that has been created to rehabilitate the affected people.

“I have to say, there have been many projects created all over the country but I have not seen the people affected by those projects rehabilitated in such a manner.”

Murad’s speech

Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in his address said the coal power project, which took ten years to complete, was an achievement at par with Pakistan’s nuclear tests.

He said the project was a manifestation of the provincial government and PPP’s will to provide a better future for Pakistan’s coming generations.

“We faced a lot of criticism and received constant negative feedback at the planning stage. Those people [critics] were focusing on the difficulties that could be faced in execution. We were also aware of the challenges but we knew they could be overcome,” said Shah.

The chief minister added, “We did not take a U-turn on the matter and the result has been beneficial for the whole of Pakistan.”

Project details

Project manager Faisal Shafiq revealed that once the project would achieve its full capacity, it would consume 12,000 tonnes per day of coal extracted from the coal mine of Thar Block-II.

However, he claimed that all environmental concerns regarding the project had been allayed and power station was built in accordance with the standards set by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.

An around 4,000-strong labour force had been used for the construction of the power plant, of which around 2,500 were natives of Thar. “Around 70 engineers working for the project were also Tharis,” Faisal said.

Earlier, the project manager of Thar Block-II coalmine, Naeem Pasha, said that mining operations had formally commenced in 2016 and the open-pit mining operation had now reached a depth of 160 metres. He said the current coal extraction levels could sustain the daily fuel needs of the 660MW plant.

Pasha said the coalmine of Thar Block-II tapped into just 1 percent of the massive Thar coal reserves of 175 billion tonnes, which was “enough to generate electricity for the next 50 years”.

Pakistan discovered the Thar coalfields in 1991. These contain the world’s seventh largest coal reserves of 175 billion tons – more than the combined oil reserves of energy-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran – and 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves.

The Singh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is a group of seven stakeholders including the government of Sindh with 51% majority stake, as well as Engro, the Habib Group and Hubco.

In the second phase of Thar Coal Block-II project, two other companies – Thar Energy Limited (TEL) and ThalNova – will each set up 330MW power plants by 2021. Block-II will increase coal production by 3.8 million tons in each phase. It has a total of five phases and the first one is nearing completion.