Islamabad - The boring machines purchased at the cost of Rs8 billion for digging the tunnels of 969-MW Neelum Jhelum hydropower project (NJHP) cannot be recovered and will be dismantled and buried on the site.

“We have been told that the two 184-meter long TBMs cannot be recovered and will be buried on the site,” official sources told The Nation here on Sunday.

To accelerate work on the project, Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), in 2013, had purchased two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) at a cost of Rs8 billion.

As per the earlier estimates, the deployment was to reduce construction period of the project by about 18 months while its benefit was calculated to be Rs60 billion. The TBMs along with the accessories were acquired at $140 million.

"The Chinese company began work on the 10.4km long left tunnel in 2013, simultaneously digging with traditional blasting and drilling methods from the upstream side and using TBMs from the downstream side.  Similar work was also started on the right tunnel.

The original PC-I for the 969 MW NJHP project was approved at Rs84 billion, which was increased to Rs274 billion and then Rs414 billion and now to Rs500 billion.

Although the TBMs were not part of the original contract signed with a Chinese company, however in order to accelerate the work the Chinese contractor came up with the idea of the deployment of the TBMs.

However, a source in the planning ministry said that when the NJHP project administration came up with the revised PC-I, they realised that the cost had increased because of the purchase of TBMs. However these TBMs will become WAPDA’s property after the completion of the project.

However, now it is being reported that the TBMs will no longer be in a working condition after the completion of the project, and these will be dismantled and buried inside the tunnel.

“It is a great loss to the national exchequer and the government should make the contractor pay for the burden,” the source said, and added, “It is their duty to hand over the TBMs in a working condition; otherwise don’t pay them. After all it was the responsibility of the contractor to dig the tunnel.”

The official said that for the channel tunnel between England and France 11 TBMs were used. “However some were buried while the rest were recovered,” he added. The 31.9 mile Channel Tunnel connects England with northern France.

However when contacted  CEO of the NJHP Brigadier(r) Muhammad Zareen said that it was internationally recognised practice that such TBMs machines were buried after the completion of the task.

“Six TBMs lay buried under the English tunnel,” he maintained. He said that the cost of two TBMs were $32 million each and after their use the worth was devalued to merely $4 million each. Regarding the burying of the TBMs, he said that after the completion of the left tunnel cutter head of one of the TBMs, which was around four meters, was buried inside the tunnel and the remaining 180 meters was dismantled and brought outside. The fate of the second TBM working on the right tunnel will be the same, he maintained.

He said burying both the 184 meter TBMs was not possible because for that they would have to dig two tunnels of the same length. “Therefore it was decided to bury the cutter head inside as it was not possible to drag it out and bring the remaining part outside,” he elaborated.

He said that it was too expensive to bring these machines in the working condition as the cost was around Rs1.5 billion per TBM, while the time required for bringing them out and cleaning them was around seven months.

“Waiting for another seven months mean another delay in the completion and heavy loss,” he apprehended.

“Besides these TBMs were outdated and required huge spending for refurbishment,” he said, and added, “These TBMs were custom made and were designed for these specific tunnels and could not be used in any other tunnel.”  “Only the TBM machines were dismantled while the trains and other related accessories with the TBMs are still intact and can be reused Even the generators related with the TBM is being used,” he clarified.