Kalabagh Dam: Lingering Controversy

By Najeeb Nangialy

The idea of Kalabagh dam proposed in 1953 was based on building a big dam to produce 3600MW of electricity. This project could not take the practical shape from the last six decades due to many pragmatic reasons such as severe opposition from the three quarters of state and it was considered as a potential cause which could lead to disintegration of the country. The dam is situated at Indus River at Kalabagh in the Mianwali district of Punjab. The design of the dam was given in July 1987 and the estimate cost was US $ 4.14 billion at that time.  It was projected that the construction of dam would take six years (Sehgal) (Wapda). Since the proposal of the project of Kalabagh dam, it has not been successfully implemented. In 2004, President of Pakistan, Pervaiz Musharraf announced building of Kalabagh dam but three provincial assemblies and Senate assembly were against this project. They had passed unanimous resolution against the dam. On May 26, 2008, Federal Minister for Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf said that Kalabagh dam could not be constructed and the project has been cancelled (Khukro). The idea of Kalabagh dam is still not converted into viable form due to many reasons. Politicians of Punjab have their own concerns for showing resistance to this project. KPK government fears about inundation of water in fertile land, water-logging and salinity, flooding and rehabilitating problems associated with this project. Sindh challenged the technical foundation of dam as implementation of this project will result in shortage of water and it will also affect the fertility of soil. Baluchistan is also facing the same kind of problems. Due to these reasons, numerous public meetings, resolution, protests and strikes have taken place against the construction project of dam.  Punjab dominated experts say that Kalabagh dam will create cheap and huge amount of electricity yet work on Kalabagh dam could not be started because it can convert KPK into swamp, Sindh and Baluchistan into desert area and have numerous number of potential alternate plans ready for implementation so the project should be buried and other alternative should be implemented.

KPK is against the Kalabagh dam due to many technical reasons and conundrums such as salinity, water-logging, flooding and rehabilitation problem (Network). The reservoir of Kalabagh dam is in KPK so the water will be stored in KPK due to which the underground water in many districts i.e. Nowshera, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda and Peshawar will level up and will cause salinity converting the green and fertile land into non fertile land. Nowshera will almost become a lake if this project will be implemented. Land up to 200 km near Nowshera will be flooded. Over 182,000 acres of agricultural land of KPK will be also get affected. The strategic rail link with south and with east of Pakistan will be discontinued (Dawn). Rehabilitation is also one of the biggest problem as people of Kalabagh and Nowshera will have to leave their homes and places. The settlement of displaced persons at an alternate area will be responsibility of KPK government and giving the displaced persons another source of income will be a big issue for the government of KPK. It is expected that the displaced persons of Kalabagh dam will be one lac twenty thousands. They will get settlement in 47 models and extended villages which will cost estimated $ 250 million (Wapda). Therefore, all the political parties of KPK are against the construction of Kalabagh dam. At one side, KPK is expecting to face flooding problem while at the opposite side, Sindh and Baluchistan have threat of inadequate water supply.

Sindh is showing the strongest opposition as this dam may deprives Sindh from the last drop of water and convert the lush, green and fertile land into desolate wasteland. After the proposed Kalabagh dam is built, 6.1 million acre feet water will be stored in it and Kalabagh dam will store large quantity of water, adversely affecting the agricultural requirement of water in Sindh. Pakistan face yearly floods from the eastern side. With the construction of Kalabagh dam this issue will not be resolved. The Kalabagh dam will not have enough capacity to deter the massive flood after every five years. Baluchistan has opposition to Kalabagh dam project because it will divest the already deprived land of Baluchistan. The insufficient water it is getting now will be stored in dam. Sindhi wetlands such as the Keenjhar and Haleji Lakes will dry up. The sixth largest Mangrove forest of world lies in the Indus delta, dependent on the silt carried by the Indus River. These forest will dry up if the water level in the region will be reduced. Eighty thousand fisherman and other two lac people are dependent on this mangrove forest for food and fodder. Pakistan will lose protection against tsunamis that mangrove plantations in coastal areas offer. Due to these reasons, common people and politicians are very serious and aggressive about the development of Kalabagh dam.

Total hydroelectric energy potential of Pakistan is 42GW out of which only 15%, amounting to nearly 6.6GW, has been exploited so far. In order to meet energy demands of Pakistan, various alternative dam and energy projects are available and these alternatives should be evaluated against Kalabagh dam project. Diamir Basha dam is having capacity to produce 4500MW energy. Other alternatives dams available are Dasu 4000MW, Patan 2800MW, Bunji 5400MW, Patan 2800MW, Soan 5340MW, Thakot 2800MW, Munda 750MW, Akhori 600MW, Neelum-Jhelum 950MW Garuk 300MW, Pelar 300MW and Winder 300MW. At one by seventh cost of Kalabagh dam, tarbela dam can produce same amount of energy. Private companies are persuaded to build small dams in Northern areas of Pakistan in order to meet energy demands. The southern parts of Pakistan have average wind reaching 7-8m/s. The Gharo wind corridors also possess the capacity to produce 700MW of wind energy. Gwadar air corridor is also good option. Pakistan on average have almost 300 sunshine days with availability of 1900-2200kWh/m^2 of annual global irradiance making Pakistan the richest country in world in terms of solar energy potential (Asif). This can be an opportunity for Pakistan to meet energy needs.   Pakistan also possesses coal resources such as Thar is having 175 billion tons of coal through which it is producing thermal energy (Finance). These alternatives can be opted for dealing with the energy crisis of Pakistan.

Kalabagh dam is beneficial for Punjab as it will help in the production of cheap and huge amount of energy, but this project is disastrous for the other three provinces of Pakistan and they are not willing to accept any kind of preposition regarding Kalabagh dam. Among political reasons, critics dismiss the dam on the grounds as it creates subordination, dependence and discrimination. The pro-Kalabagh dam school arguments are that it will produce cheap energy and will pacify the energy crisis. The anti-Kalabagh dam school arguments are that this project will surge the discrimination between provinces and it will prove that historically powerful Punjab has always dominated Sindh, Baluchistan and KPK.  The non-dominant ethnic groups blame Punjab for stealing water in the current Indus River water distribution system and they do not expect Punjab to share water equally when Kalabagh Dam will be built in Punjab. KPK will face serious threats of inundation of land. Kalabagh dam has been politicized to such level that it orchestration now appears to be impossible. Kalabagh dam may produce huge amount of energy but it is not acceptable at the cost of swamping KPK, dehydrating Sindh and Baluchistan and killing their needs. Kalabagh dam may produce cheap energy but its building and resettlement plan needs very large amount of investment and it will take almost six years to complete. Therefore, besides political reasons, the economic conditions of Pakistan do not allow smooth implementation of this project.  It is beneficial for the peace of country that Punjab should dismiss this project and try to fulfill the energy needs of Pakistan through other means.

We can conclude that Kalabagh dam is having many advantages but there are also many disadvantages of implementing project of Kalabagh dam. It is not right to spurn the right of minority. KPK and Sindh showing the strongest opposition are reluctant to talk further on this issue due to numerous pitfalls they will be facing after building Kalabagh dam. The government of Pakistan has plenty of time to go through other alternate plans. The idea of Kalabagh dam was generated since the independence of Pakistan i.e. last 61 years and the final design and plan backed to last 27 years. Due to potential threats for three provinces, this project issue has not been resolved from many years. This dam has been politicized to such an extent that further discussion on this topic can lead Pakistan to disintegration. It is only possible to build Kalabagh dam if consensus from all quarters of Pakistan will be made, which seems to be impossible in current scenario. Therefore, it is better for government of Pakistan to call spade a spade and bury this dead horse which is a bone of contention in the country due to deadlock of three provinces. There are many urgent and articulate ways to deal with energy crisis that should look for. It would be prudent to drop the project and pursue alternatives rather than being hell-bent on it and waste more time.

Writer Najeeb Nangily is a student of Economics and Political Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences you can reach him with nangialymuhmand@yahoo.com