Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, in his address at the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Tuesday, expressed the stock official view about the possibility of building the Kalabagh Dam: the project would be taken up when all provinces had agreed. Referring indirectly to the strength of opposition to the dam, he said that even powerful governments of the past could not construct it. Prime Minister Ashraf made these remarks in response to a point raised by Mr Farooq Iftikhar, the LCCI President, in his welcome speech that the hydel power to be produced at Kalabagh could mitigate the electricity shortage crisis and help put the country’s moribund industry back on the rails. Mr Iftikhar spoke of the seriousness of the problem of power non-availability that was giving the business community sleepless nights and, therefore, ought to be tackled on a war-footing and in that context the Kalabagh Dam figured prominently in his view. Similarly, he urged for the resolution of the issue of circular debt on a permanent basis so that the already installed electricity generation capacity in the country could be fully utilised. Mr Manzoor Wattoo, PPP Punjab President and former Chief Minister of the province, however, went a step beyond the Prime Minister’s non-committal remark, stating that he was in favour of building the dam but stopped at adding that it had been politicised rather than saying that he was trying to bring round the PPP and coalition partners to agree to its construction.

It is a great pity that a site ideally suited to build a big reservoir with the storage capacity of 6.1 million acre feet and power generation capacity of 3,600MW is not being made use of. Kalabagh, experts the world over believe, is a rare phenomenon inasmuch as the dam there would last almost forever as it would receive silt-free water, unlike other dams which “start dying the day they are born” as a result of the siltation process. That was why it was originally conceived by the Water and Power Development Authority as a replacement reservoir to partially fill the gap that would be left by both the Mangla and Tarbela Dams when they had choked up. Kalabagh would not only supply a big chunk of power at an extremely low rate, providing great relief to the consumers paying a painfully high tariff, but also make available regulated supply of irrigation water. And it would, to a substantial extent, absorb the impact of flood peaks to the benefit of downstream areas. It is in the interest of the entire nation that projects of technical nature that Kalabagh is should be left to the experts to decide, not admitting any political meddling whatsoever. It is towards that end the government should be working.