The one dam not damned


By Malik siraj Akbar

The Rs6 billion Mirani Dam, with a catchment area of 12,000 square kilometer and a storage capacity of 300,000 feet of water, was inaugurated by President Pervez Musharraf on November 16, 2006. The completion of the Dam took five long decades and after its inauguration, no one is sure if they should heave a sigh of relief, just yet.

Like many dams, Mirani Dam has had a negative impact on the local population. The Dam has left a large number of people displaced and homeless. Although the government announced Rs1.5 billion compensation for displaced people, relief has not reached the deserving people yet. Sources say authorities are actually using this amount as political bribes for the upcoming elections.

Some local residents told TFT they wanted the President to take personal notice of the delay in the payment of the compensation amount because some big wigs of the Balochistan government were engaged in distributing the money among people who voted for them; affected people who have no political approach or belong to the opponent parties have not been left out.

Credible sources disclosed that compensation funds has been kept in a private account of a private bank rather than in the National Bank, which is the normal procedure for the transfer of government funds. On their part, the local people have been pleading to the president to conduct an investigation to ascertain where the compensation money is at present and who the distributing authority is.

“We request the president to remain on guard and insure that justice is done to the affected families and villages and no official of political leader dares to blackmail or deny them their legitimate right,” says one local leader. “The cash compensation should not be used to create a political constituency for the election next year. It will be immoral and unethical to use compensation for election purposes. It is the right of the affected people and they should get it without any conditions.”

About 3080 feet in length and 127 feet high, Mirani Dam, Balochistan’s largest and the second main dam after the Hub Dam remained a neglected project during successive elected and military governments until Musharraf ultimately launched it in 2002.

Some analyses say Mirani Dam was first spotlighted during the British rule when data was collected about the area and the pros and cons of building a dam were identified. However, the British never implemented the project as a part of the policy to keep Balochistan backward for strategic reasons.

Other historians say the Mirani Dam plan dates back to the 1950s. After the Marshall Plan by Noble Prize winner and former US Secretary of State George C. Marshall proved successful in 17 western and southern European nations, US President Harry Truman in 1949 decided to induct the same plan in less developed countries throughout the world. This was to be done under the Point Four Programme. Since Pakistan had joined the capitalist bloc by inking the US-sponsored SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) defence pacts, the US and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) agreed to finance the Mirani Dam.

“The National Engineering Services of Pakistan (NESPAK), time and again, exploited the project in its favour by collecting tens of millions of rupees from the Balochistan exchequer under the pretext of collecting technical data and conducting surveys,” says a source. “It got Rs120 million for updating the data more than once. Similarly, it earned more money from time to time by offering its services to update the feasibility study during various governments. But these efforts never resulted in the commencement of the actual project,” he added.

In the 1980s, the Balochistan government prepared a feasibility study of the Mirani Dam and sent it to the federal government for approval. Some enterprising Pakistanis residing in Lahore got the right of representation of the Russian Corporation, the company that built the Aswan Dam in Egypt in the 1950s.

A senior-Quetta based journalist recollects that the offer included a soft loan, technical assistance and other incentives. However, at that Cold War moment, the Dam was politicised and thus became controversial. The offer was seen as an attempt by the Soviets to get a foothold in Mekran and finally reach the real target – the warm waters of the Mekran coast.

Some even went to the extent of branding the dam “Communist Dam”. “Things were so bad that when a Russian delegation visited Balochistan for talks with the representatives of the Balochistan government, no official went to the airport to receive them,” says the senior journalist.

Progress on the project was made for the first time in 2002 when President Musharraf took personal interest in developing water resources in Balochistan. By this point, an 8-year drought had caused huge losses to the cash crops and had a highly negative impact on the economy. That got the president’s attention. There was also the belief that the only Dam constructed in Balochistan for many decades, the Hub Dam, was largely in the interest of Karachi rather than Balochistan.

“That Dam was constructed because Karachi faced severe water shortage and so the [Hub] Dam was used to improve the supply of drinking water and contain water riots in certain areas of Karachi,” says one observer. After Hub, no major dam came up; only two small dams, Allahyar Shah Dam and the Bolan Dam, were busted in floods and torrential rains.

“The need for constructing a major dam to store water for agriculture and drinking purposes had been felt for a long time. With the Mirani Dam, we can be sure the beneficiaries will be the people of Mekran,” says an official.

Besides its benefits for the local people of Kech district, the Dam, experts say, will be helpful in providing water to the emerging port city of Gwadar and also for producing energy. “Gwadar will have no option but to get water from Mirani Dam. “If there is no Mirani Dam, there will be no Gwadar Port,” said a federal minister who represents the same area in the National Assembly.

According to the data provided by construction firm Descon Engineering Limited, the Left Bank Main Canal is 11.41 miles long with a water carrying capacity of 141 cusecs. It has a water distribution network of 4 distributaries, 15 minor canals and their watercourses. Similarly, Right Bank Main Canal has a length of 12.0 miles with a water carrying capacity of 236 cusecs and a distribution network of 4 distributaries, 14 minor cans and their watercourses. Right Bank Mian Canal crosses Dasht River. In order to convey canal water across the river, a 2500 feet long aqueduct has been provided. This aqueduct is a unique structure and has a standard roadway on its top for the passage of vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the river.

Like many dams, Mirani Dam has had a negative impact on the local population. The Dam has left a large number of people displaced and homeless. Although the government announced Rs1.5 billion compensation for displaced people, relief has not reached the deserving people yet. Sources say authorities are actually using this amount as political bribe for the upcoming elections. Some local residents told TFT they wanted the President to take personal notice of the delay in the payment of the compensation amount because some big wigs of the Balochistan government were engaged in distributing the money among people who voted for them; affected people who have no political approach or belong to the opponent parties have not been provided assistance yet.

Credible sources disclosed that compensation funds has been kept in a private account of a private bank rather than in the National Bank, which is the normal procedure for the transfer of government funds. On their part, the local people have been pleading to the president to conduct an investigation in order to ascertain where the compensation money is at present and who the distributing authority is.

“We request to the President of Pakistan to remain on guard that justice is done to the affected families and villages and no official of political leader dares to blackmail or deny them their legitimate right,” says one local leader. “The cash compensation should not be used to create a political constituency for the election next year. It will be immoral and unethical to use the grant of compensation for election purposes. It is the right of the affected people and they should get it without any hesitation.”

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