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CPEC projects in Azad Kashmir turn murky

One of the important projects includes Mirpur–Muzaffarabad--Mansehra Motorway, which would connect the state with the main CPEC route.

October 08, 2019

LAHORE: Protracted delay in the execution of various projects sanctioned for Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could result in their escalated costs, and hinder the state’s economic development and regional connectivity, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

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Sources said four mega projects in AJ&K envisaged under CPEC framework face roadblocks due to one reason or another. The likely cost overrun and delays might provide opportunities to certain vested groups to ‘politicize’ such projects at the cost of economic development in the area, they said.

One of the important projects includes Mirpur–Muzaffarabad--Mansehra Motorway, which would connect the state with the main CPEC route. Amongst the eight industrial zones under the CPEC, one is to be set up in AJ&K. Moreover, 1,124 megawatts of Kohala dam and the 720 MW of Karot dam were also envisaged under the CPEC framework.

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With the exception of Karot hydropower project, work on no other proposed project has been initiated as yet. This is primarily due to the withholding of funds by the federal government, the sources said. Additionally, controversies regarding the project’s design and ensuing environmental effects have caused hindrances, they added.

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A report, titled “CPEC in Azad Jammu & Kashmir: a gateway to regional connectivity and beyond”, also expressed concern over obstacles in the proposed projects. The report, authored by Sabur Ali Sayyid and published by Islamabad-based Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), provides a comprehensive critique of the CPEC projects in AJ&K, including Karot and Kohala hydropower projects, construction of motorway and a special economic zone in Mirpur. CPDR is a non-governmental organisation engaged in different activities related to the promotion of peace, development and institutional reforms in AJ&K.

A conservative estimate said AJ&K is expected to earn Rs2.19 billion a year after the construction of Kohala hydropower project. Similarly, construction of the special economic zone is expected to provide a strong industrial base to Kashmir and help it become an exporter, rather than a mere consumer-oriented society. To complement this, the motorway M4 would interconnect different parts of AJ&K in addition to shorten the existing distance between the central Punjab and CPEC by at least 50 kilometres.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to discuss with the Chinese leadership several matters, including progress on the CPEC coupled with regional issues, including the Kashmir dispute during a three-day visit to China on Monday. The visit by the premier comes ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of Nepal and India. The issues related to several CPEC components are also expected to be sorted out during the visit.

The Kashmir-dedicated report recommended to the state government to initiate an open and knowledge-based discussion on the need, benefits and implications, if any, of these projects and a plan to address them in a time-bound manner.

It should be reminded that rising controversy on the Kohala hydropower project in view of its purported environmental implications could have far reaching political and economic implications in the days ahead.

Construction of the Karot hydropower project is expected to be completed in two years and start power generation by April 2021 as per the latest timeline. The project, with a total investment of $1.74 billion, is expected to help in solving the power supply bottleneck and provide sustainable and stable energy support in the country. Once completed, the 720 MW project that commenced construction in 2015 is estimated to annually produce some 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of clean power, equivalent to 10 percent of Pakistan’s total energy output from hydropower stations.

Besides, the Kohala hydropower project’s execution process was adversely affected as the commissioning of Neelum–Jhelum hydropower plant in 2018 reduced water flow in Neelum River downstream – the dam site in Nauseri – and triggered public outcry in Muzaffarabad, according to a report. Now water flows issues are being resolved with the stakeholders’ consultation. The project envisages diversion of River Jhelum from Saran in Jhelum valley district through a tunnel with its powerhouse and outfall near Barsala village of district Muzaffarabad. The preliminary execution stage, involving identification and acquisition of land, was started by Kohala Hydropower Company two years ago.