Karachi: Resident of the Thar Desert area are distraught at the forced relocation of 12 villages to make way for a new reservoir, which they fear will damage their farming land. Tharis (residents of Tharparkar) have held protest for more than 90 days outside the press club Islamkot along with women and children.
Ahmed Naeem Pasha, Mine Manager at Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), accounts for whole project and said that Thar Coal project is part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC), Sindh and Federal government both look into it. However, Sindh Government is major shareholder, up to 51 per cent.
Coal Reserves in Pakistan
|Sindh||185,457 million tonnes|
|Punjab||235 million tonnes|
|Balochistan||217 million tonnes|
|Khyber Pakhtunkhwa||90 million tonnes|
|Azad Kashmir||9 million tonnes|
“Thar coal is one of the largest coal reserve in the world. Pakistan has 186 billion Tons coal reserves and 175 billion Tons total in Thar coal reserves, indeed, Thar coal reserve is 50 billion tons more than Saudi Arabia and Iranian oil reserves”, noted Pasha.
Thar Coal (Thar Coal Energy Board Government of Sindh) project has total 13 blocks involving many companies. Pasha elaborated that the Thar coal project, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), has been allocated Block II. Block II is estimated to produce 5,000 MW for 50 years after completion. A mine of 3.8 million tonnes per annum capacity will be developed by SECMC in the first phase of the project. This coal will serve the coal burning electricity-generating plant built in proximity to Block II coal mine, (Mine Mouth). This project has multi-billion costs as Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company project cost – USD 845 M and 2×330 mega watts (MW) mine mouth power Plants project cost – USD 1.1 Bn.
Our company (Engro) started looking into Thar Coal Block II site from 2008 and then started work in 2014 and now this project aims to complete by 2019.
On the controversy of Gorano Dam, Pasha at first rejected all allegations and called it baseless. He said that the Gorano site is suggested by Sindh government and has nothing do to with Engro.
He explained that Gorano Dam would store natural subsoil water excavated from Thar Block II during mine construction, as the Power Plant gets operational in June 2019. “Its water is not harmful,” said Pasha further adding, “we are ready to negotiate with local Tharis but they do not seem to come to table-talks.” He criticised and asked, “Let me know how many people support protestors … you can visit Gorano dam, no village can be seen on its site.”
But the questions are obvious: what are the different areas for Gorano dam and if the site is suggested by Sindh government why Engro is bearing criticism? Pasha answered, “Sindh government and Engro are partners, therefore we strongly believe in making positive relationship among all people – emphasised, Sindh government had conducted highly research work on Dam site and finally we reached at Gorano site in order to store water.”
When asked about the technical reports for the choice of the particular land site Mohsin Babbar [Manager Media and communications] interpreted and commented, “technical reports cannot be made public.”
At the Gorano Dam site labourers continued constructing on 14 hundreds acres land, whole area is beautiful – village houses are seen at Gorano site besides at the ending point of Dam.
“I do not want to leave my land of forefathers – rich people are constructing dam which would damage our houses as well land,” said Bhambhero Meghwar citizen of Gorano village. He complained that “our all villages have access to road for traveling and this dam will close it forever.”
Meghwar pointing to tree called “Kundi” and other plants useful for their livelihood. “We sell these in the market… if they construct Dam here, it would not be able to hold salty water but destroy our all villages,” he said adding, “I am protester but I have to collect food for family – are poor that’s why none pays attention to us.”
Babbar said his company is about to build alternative roads for local people. However, Truth Tracker was told that not a single road site is under construction at Gorano village.
Agha Wasif secretary energy Sindh government did not respond to Truth Tracker despite several attempts.
Leela Raam, an advocate leading protest against Gorano dam said, “Let me be clear, we [Tharis] are not against any kind of development. We are protesting for our rights because Engro is seen to save its time and cost at the Gorano Dam and destroying local community and habitat.” Raam said that its Gorano will not only affect 12 villages with 15 thousands’ population, but approximately 25 villages will be distraught. He feared that the impact on climate would be visible after the construction of the dam.
Raam went on Gorano Dam that “we offered them six more sites for constructing dam but government denied to work on them. Even, Salty areas are nearby coal mining site on which dam can be built – they are giving excuses of Ramsar Treaty among countries especially between India and Pakistan in 1971.” Ramsar convention was signed in the Irani city of the same name and bids to conserve and make wise use of wetlands.
Ram said that the locals recommended areas are 10 kilometres back from Rann Kutch, which will not affect Ramsar Treaty. He asked why Sindh government and Engro do not consider those areas.
Raam said protesters do not have faith in verbal promises – wanted to see on guaranteed documentation for assuring them. He quoted example of Chotiari reservoir in Sanghar that has totally damaged livelihood of local citizens.
On the question of sudden protest, Raam said that their protest began on May 2016 when the Engro came to their village to plant a pipeline, which later turned into a dam project. He said hat the government ministers made no more than verbal promises. He lamented that those who stood for their right can be dubbed as Indian agents, adding, “We do not care of what they say, I stand by my people to save our land for livelihood” In conclusion he said, “Now we have a last hope in court and Sindh high court has made a four-member committee [order seen in report] so as to look into case.”
“There is no denying that Gorano village is like beautiful valley but Sindh government and Engro do not have other options, even if we go to choose salty sites for reservoirs, then Ramsar Treaty is a big detriment due to unsavoury relations with India. We had talked to protesters and still offer them to come to table-talk for resolving issues”, said Dr.Khatomal Jeevan PPP member.
Nasser Memon, researcher and human rights activist, showed concerns over the role of Engro and government. He said, “I asked Engro to share the research document suggesting Gorano site for their reservoir – but they did not give us. They did not have proper research work if they have then it has very weak assessments on site of constructing Gorano reservoir.”
Memon said that the government is using the land acquisition act of 1894 to grab Tharis land. He said, “if locals do not have official documentation for their land, as in our system most of time, people do not bother to get their land documented – Tharis have their ownership on land, it cannot be easily ignored.”
Lashman Gorano, protestor and resident of Gorano remains hopeful despite his obvious distress on what the future holds for the Gorano population. “We are simple people, do not snatch our right of living on our land. If they have any kind of alternatives, show us but we will never believe in their verbal promises, said Gorano.