Accord on compensation for dam project11 March 2010
ISLAMABAD: With Pakistan reaching the threshold of water-scarce countries, the government has finalised a Rs40 billion out-of-court agreement with 30,000 families to be affected by the proposed Bhasha-Diamer dam. 'Pakistan's per capita water availability, which was more than 5,000 cusecs in 1950, has come down to 1,000 cusecs per day because the nation has not been able to build a dam in almost four decades,' the Minister for Water and Power, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, said at a joint news conference with Kashmir Affairs Minister Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo and Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah. He said 29,000 to 30,000 families would be affected by 'Pakistan's largest development project' that would have the capacity to store 6.4 million acre-feet (MAF) of water and produce 4,500 megawatts of electricity. After the agreement with the local population, he said, work on the project was expected to be launched by the end of the current year and completed in eight years. The out-of-court settlement came about a week after clashes in Chilas between law enforcement agencies and people protesting low rates of compensation for land being vacated for construction of the dam and a border dispute between the NWFP and Gilgit-Baltistan for determination of royalty for power generation and demanding jobs for locals, resulted in the death of two people. Mr Ashraf said the agreement envisaged at least 15 per cent jobs in the construction phase for local people and preference to them for technical jobs. The ministers did not say anything about the dispute over demarcation of the border between the NWFP and Gilgit-Baltistan for determining royalty. Mr Wattoo said 31 villages would be affected by the project and the government would build nine model villages near the dam for resettling the affected people. He said the people of the villages had initially demanded Rs58 billion as compensation, but agreed to payment of Rs40 billion after negotiations. The amount will be disbursed in three years. 'Under the agreement, 37,000 acres of land will be utilised for the dam. The government will give compensation for 18,000 acres and 18,896 acres will be free of cost.' He said a survey carried out earlier for acquiring land was final. The government had initially planned to give five-marla residential plots to the affected families, but now the size had been increased to one kanal, Mr Wattoo said. The minister said a dispute-resolution committee had been constituted to resolve other issues. The minister for water and power said the project would also lengthen Tarbela dam's life by 40 to 50 years. He said the project would reach breakeven a few years after completion. He said since the existing road in the area could not bear the load of heavy traffic transporting construction material, the prime minister would be requested to approve an additional Rs600 million for its upgradation. The Water and Power Development Authority will set up a polytechnic institute in Chilas to train local people for technical jobs. It will also upgrade hospitals in Sakewar and Chilas. In reply to a question, Mr Ashraf said the provincial assemblies of Sindh and the NWFP had adopted resolutions against Kalabagh dam and the government could not take up the project against the wishes of the provinces.