KARACHI - Pakistan’s first indigenous coal-fired power plant in Thar, a part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project, is expected to start generating 330mw electricity from January 2019, with another plant of the same capacity to double the generation by June 2019 in the first phase.

It will mark the beginning of a new era of development for the country and can yield even better results in the long run if apprehensions and reservations of local community and development experts are also addressed effectively.

“First plant will start generation either by December, 2018 or January 2019 while the commercial operation date (CoD) of both plants is June 3, 2019,” told the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) Shamsuddin A Shaikh whilst talking to APP.

These CPEC power plants, worth US$ 2000 million, “will generate a total of 660mw in first phase, another 660mw in second phase and following the same track it will reach its target of around 4,000mw electricity by 2024”, in block-II which is one percent of total coal in Thar, he told.

CEO Shamsuddin A.Shaikh, replying to a question regarding the much criticised and protested Gorano and Dukachhor villages scheme reservoir, said that “water of the pond is natural water and it will not create any environmental impacts.” The said water is not harmful to life and environment as it does not pass through any chemical process, he added.

Shams said that they are using bio-saline agriculture and the chief minister was also served with the food prepared from vegetables grown on the plants cultivated using same saline water, when he came to Thar to celebrate fifty percent mining completion work.

He said that there is huge amount of underground water in Thar and they are also planning to install solar pumps to draw aforesaid water for local community. He conceded that some reservation of the villagers are genuine and some land which belongs to them or the private property will be definitely affected as water will be stored in the reservoir.

Adding that, the reservoir is stretched over around 1400 to 1500 acres of land which will be affected due to water storage. He told that around 500 to 600 families live within the limits of 1km of the pond and chief minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah has announced a suitable thirty-year package for them and affectees of the project have also been made shareholders.

The villagers expressing their apprehensions and reservations told APP that they are in a state of uncertainty after experiencing that the SECMC is going back from its commitment of making timely payments to the affectees and can also backtrack from its other commitments. 

Abdul Majeeb, a villager of Sihri village, said, “At the outset of the talks with the company we were agree for the resettlement but now we are reluctant to do so.”  “We are being asked by the company to vacate our village by December 2018 in spite of not paying us the agreed amount of money for our land and homes,” he complained.

Villagers told that their animals are dying of unhealthy grazing and emphasized that they should be allowed in the area, which is now under the control of the SECMC, so that their animals can eat healthy fodder.

Giving his feedback Shams Shaikh supported villagers of Sihri view on the issue of animals foddering and said that in order to address this issue instead of 500 acres of grazing field, the company is preparing 700 acres grazing areas which will take one year time.

Replying to another question on the report of a committee constituted by Sindh High Court (SHC) on Gorano reservoir which has also recommended to put an embargo on the company pertaining to effluent that will be released from coal-fired plant at later stage, which has also been rejected by the petitioners, the CEO said that they have accepted it despite some reservations.

By 2024, he said that Islamkot taluka will be the fourth big city of the province after Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur with the completion of the project.

Development Expert and Professor Sindh Development Studies Centre (SDSC), University of Sindh, Dr Shahabuddin Mughal, talking to APP over phone said that the project will have both pros and cons. It will play pivotal role in the overall development, create employment and improve the lives in particular of local community. Dr Mughal said that on the other hand environmental impacts of the project will affect the lives not only of the people but also of animals, birds and other living creatures.

“Property Rights’ are important and the local community should not be forcefully evicted from their homes and their reservations must be addressed,” he stressed. He said that the local community should be compensated in line with World Bank guidelines and not following local standards.

Chief Executive, Global Environmental Lab, Saleem-uz-Zaman talking to APP about his lab’s report on Gorano reservoir and wells in surrounding areas told that the salinity level in wells has decreased but they are not sure about the exact reason of that slide in TDS. He told that it may be either due to annual rainfall or some other reason.

Pakistan has a total estimated reserves of coal about 185 billion tons out of which 175 billion tons are in Tharparkar, the district is being termed as the seventh largest coal reserves of the world. It is estimated that Thar coal can generate 100,000mw electricity for 200 years.

President, PCMW, Humaira Motala said that the study visits of journalists to the sites of the projects of national importance provided an opportunity to bring socio-economic and environmental impacts of such initiatives to limelight and help spread awareness among communities about positive impacts for success of these projects and problematic issues for their timely resolution.