Wednesday May 22, 2024

Who will light up Thar?

By Muhammad Abbas Khaskheli
April 18, 2019

If anybody wants to understand the real sense of the idiom ‘the nearer the church, the farther from God’ he/she should see Thar, from where power generation has been kicked off and is being added to the national grid – but sadly the power production station/hub which is about to light up the whole country is dark as 80 percent villages of Thar have no access to electricity.

There are more than 2000 villages in Thar in which inhabitants have never seen a light bulb in their Chaunras (thatched hut-style homes/traditional Thari houses) since the inception of this country while the cities and some villages of Thar which have access to electricity only need 10 MW electricity per day. This means a total of around 50 MW electricity is required to light up all of Thar. Is it then not injustice that an area which contributes 660 MW electricity to the national grid has no right to receive only 50 MW of it?

Last month, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah visited Thar and said that now Thar will light up Pakistan. But the question is: do Tharis have no right to light up their houses? This fear seems realistic to almost everyone because the dwellers of Sui of Balochistan, which caters to the gas needs of the entire country, still depend on firewood for cooking.

The Thar Coal Project is not only Pakistan’s most beneficial project but Thar’s coal reservoirs are considered as the world’s seventh largest coal reserves so economic experts have started linking them to Pakistan’s prosperity and progress. However, there are a hundred questions in the minds of locals regarding the future of their land and their children. These questions need to be answered by government entities as well as the company working in collaboration with the government.

Lets’ look at the background of this project: it has been 27 years since Thar’s coal reserves were discovered and it is only now that we have become able to transform that coal into electricity. This is the pace of our development.

This is when Benazir Bhutto was the premier in the year 1993 and the Sindh government’s sponsored SAZDA department was working on a tubewell scheme in Thar. SAZDA notified the government regarding the availability of coal reserves in Thar, discovered accidentally, and the government ensured the Thari people that one day this black gold would change their fate. Benazir Bhutto not only showed her interest in that but also ordered a company to conduct a brief survey regarding the availability of coal. She also announced that once the coal was extracted, a power station/plant would be constructed in Keti Bandar, Thatta.

Everyone in Thar opposed this decision of the government and the local social and political representatives kicked off a joint movement called the ‘Thar Coal Action Committee’ against it so that a pressure group could be developed to force the government to programme all the projects related to Thar’s coal only in Thar.

This was the time when entire Arbab Group of Thar including Arbab Ghulam Rahim was in the PPP. When Benazir Bhutto arrived in village Thariyo Halepota, Islamkot and announced the Thar Coal-Keti Bandar Project, Arbab Ghulam Rahim not only openly disagreed but also parted ways with the PPP. The conflict was going on when suddenly Benazir Bhutto’s government collapsed.

After that, many successive governments made several contracts and agreements with China and other countries but nothing could be done. Later on, in 2008 when the PPP came to power after a long time it made serious attempts to act on utilising Thar coal. Once again, a survey of the entire Tharparkar area was carried out. The survey concluded that out of a total of 21,000 square kilometres area of Thar, around 9,300 square kilometres contain coal. The coal area is further divided into 13 total blocks. First, Thar Coal Block 5 was handed over to Dr Samar Mubarakmand’s company for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) but the company totally failed. The project is still pending and the company officials are still facing government inquiries.

In year 2014, the Sindh government – on a 51 percent share – joined hands with the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company and gave the company a target to establish two power plants of 660 MW by June 2019. A power station of 330 MW has started supplying power to the national grid while the remaining power is said to be completed within the given time-frame.

On the other side, the Sindh government has also handed over work on Thar Coal Block 1 to another company, Sino Sindh Resources Limited, which has also started work. In this way, only three blocks have been covered so far out of the total 13; the remaining blocks are still waiting to be handed over to any company.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari inaugurated a coal-based power plant a few days ago in Thar; this is a joint venture of the Sindh government and the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company. However, the locals still await answers that need to be given by the Sindh government. What will happen to Thar’s share? Nobody knows.

The federal government hasn’t made any policy to provide electricity to Thar from the Thar Coal Power Project but shockingly Nepra has rejected the request by Engro to provide electricity to the colony of the power plant which has been inaugurated by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Has the Sindh government too decided not to request the federal government regarding allowing Sindh to receive electricity as per its needs from this mega project?

The writer is a freelance contributor and social activist based in Badin, Sindh.

Email: abbaskhaskheli110@