By Zia Qureshi, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, February 10, 2014
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari jointly launched Thar Coal power project on Friday, the January 31. The $1.6 billion project will produce 660 MWs. The project, estimated to complete in 2017, would help the country get out of the persistent energy crisis. The project would be a joint venture between Engro Powergen and Government of Sindh called ‘Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company’ (SECMC). The project in Block-II of Tharparkar District would spread over an area of 79.6 square kilometers so no environmental effects are likely.
In the first phase of the project, 6.5 million tons of coal would be extracted per annum through mining which would help produce 1300 MW power. In the second phase of the project the coal mining capacity would be extended from 13.5 tons to 19.5 tons to produce up to 2,400 to 3,600 MW electricity per annum. According to several researches, Thar coal field has estimated reserves of 175 billion tons; more to the total combined oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and can be utilized to produce 100,000 MW for over 200 years.
For over the past 22 years the people of Thar have been hearing that their area possessed 175 billion tons of coal compared with the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran without taking any practical step to exploit this huge natural resource. No project could have been started there due to several ‘reasons’ including oil lobbies, paper plans of Kalabagh Dam, bickering between federal and provincial governments and sometimes unavailability of funds etc.
In 1994, Benazir Bhutto government initiated Thar coalfields near the areas of Tharaio Halepoto but later the plan to extract coal was shelved by the Nawaz government. Then Pervez Musharraf took interest in Thar Coal and also established a task force under his own supervision but he too could not succeed. During the previous government of PPP, Dr Samar Mubarakmand took responsibility to start pilot projects of underground gasification of the coal up 2013 but so far he could not prove what he had claimed. He rightly complains of non-cooperation from both federal and provincial governments and non-issuance of the required fund of Rs1. Yousaf Raza Gilani reiterated the Thar Coal mantra but without anything tangible results. Same was the case with Raja Parvez Ashraf. They failed to do something practical due to many ‘unknown’ reasons.
Now finally after travelling a long journey, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with former President Asif Ali Zardari putting their political differences aside moved in the right direction. In his speech, the PM invited Mr. Zardari to collaborate with each other for the betterment of the people of the country without indulging into senseless politics and thanked Asif Ali Zardari for inviting him to inaugurate the Thar Coal project.
Asif Ali Zardari, in his speech, appreciated the government’s seriousness in solving the problems of the people and expressed his commitment to move together for the sake of the people of Pakistan. This is a very positive sign when political leaders get united for the interest of their people; it shows seriousness of the national leadership. The positive impact of such gestures would obviously reach the public level. This trend would definitely lead to internal security and integrity.
On the other hand, US Ambassador Richard Williamson rejected the project and declared it against the international policy to produce power through coal though he said the US wants a prosperous and stable Pakistan. He should know that Pakistan is a sovereign state and Pakistan has the authority and right to utilize its natural present within its territories. These powers better know the fact that due to the energy crisis the country economic and industrial sectors are suffering a lot.
Undoubtedly, Thar Coal Project is an important project of the region and this must be pursued with due competence, as both the government and opposition have joined their forces to bring the nation out of the energy crisis.