by Khurshid Anwer
Easier said than done!
Now that Bhasha dam is making news it is time to revisit it. We are a funny people, we are going full steam ahead with burning of oil and soon to go on to coal as well, with or without clean coal technology, doing everything we can to make the Himalayan glaciers disappear in 30 years, and still want to build Bhasha dam which will be totally dependent on glaciers, there being no rivers, other than the Indus, big or small, and the rainfall is exactly 0 m. 0 cm. 0 mm.
By the time Bhasha dam is built the glaciers will have lost half their life. On the other hand Kalabagh dam has five big rivers flowing into it and a big part of the 30 maf annual rainfall. But Kalabagh dam is in Punjab. And no one is interested to study the Water Apportionment Accord which has made it impossible for Punjab to take even a drop of water more than its fixed share which has been reduced in favour of Sindh, even with the left bank canal.
Located in a highly seismic zone, the designers originally envisaged a height of 680 feet and ‘Conventional Compacted Concrete’ as the material of construction. But this design gave it a storage and generation capacity less than that of Kalabagh dam. Mixing politics with engineering, the height was increased to 908 feet giving it much higher storage and generation capacity. Also to improve upon costs and the time, material of construction was changed to ‘Roller Compacted Concrete’. No dam with this material has been built above a height of 600 feet anywhere in the world to date, and that too in such an active seismic region. Height of Kalabagh dam is only 260 feet.
All this hanky panky to give Bhasha dam priority over Kalabagh dam. My request to the powers that be is, now that the decision has been taken to build Bhasha dam and to shelve Kalabagh dam, please go back to the original design and not risk the destruction of the whole Indus Valley, including Tarbela dam, Jinnah Barrage, Chashma Barrage and Chashma Nuclear Power Station, and all the barrages right up to Kotri and everything to the right and left of them. Have pity on the country that Quaid built and the few people left in it who still take his name even if the can’t see his portrait anywhere, but only of those who made two countries out of his one.
Why I have said, easier said than done, 300+ miles of approach road has to be widened and strengthened to take the heavy construction machinery to the site before any work can start. 130+ miles of KKH will have to be relocated. I believe even the present Silk Highway is in a state of disrepair. Who is going to make the new road obviously at a higher and more difficult terrain.
Now take the power generation. Power from Bhasha dam will have to carried 200 miles to Tarbela dam to reach the national grid. 200 miles of a most difficult hilly terrain in a highly seismic region, given to frequent landslides. Any interruption in power supply in this remote, inaccessible region will make repairs a nightmarish job and longish job. Carrying power on the conventional 500 KV lines will mean prohibitive line losses over the 200 mile distance. The designers have thought of that and propose to transmit power at 750 KVA. The snag is that nowhere in the world is 750 KVA switchgear being manufactured. Custom made switchgear, if available, will cost the sky. All told power from Bhasha will be at a much higher rate than the 49 paisa from Tarbela and 40 paisa from Mangla. The very purpose of building a dam to get cheap power will be nullified.
Now take the water situation. The 7 + million acre feet of water stored at Bhasha will not be available to NWFP without a right bank canal at Kalabagh dam, and will not be available to north Punjab without a left bank canal at Kalabagh dam.
The Punjab farmer has been praying for a third dam for the last 23 years and Sindh has been blocking it for the same number of years. Now the Punjab farmer will not get any water from Bhasha dam or any other dam on the Indus in the future. And Sindh will get all the water from Bhasha dam and from all other dams on the Indus in the future.
Are we not a funny people?