Pakistan's COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa with the country's chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar
Pakistan's chief of army staff Qamar Javed Bajwa with the country's chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar | @OfficialDGISPR
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Chief justice Nisar draws flak for prioritising dams and water scarcity at a time when more than 40,000 cases are pending in Pakistan Supreme Court.

Two months ago Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, thought it would be a good idea if the country’s citizens helped build a dam. Now, Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has gifted a cheque of 1 billion Pakistani rupees ($8 million) to the CJP to help build the Diamer-Bhasha dam, to be located on the Indus river, 165 km downstream of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Once the Pakistan Army was on board, people got into the act. Just the day before Bajwa donated his cheque, Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday met WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) chairman Gen. (retd) Muzammil Hussain and told him to be at the PM office to start work on the construction of these dams at the earliest.

“I may supervise the dam project myself, given the urgency,” said Khan.

Even the railways have chipped in to the dam project. Railways minister Sheikh Rashid Saturday announced that train tickets would be taxed — from Rs 1 to Rs 10 — as part of his ministry’s contribution to the dam fund. He promised to raise Rs 100 million ($0.8 million) for the project.

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The Pakistan high commission in London opened an account called the “Diamer-Bhasha & Mohmand Dam Fund 2018” as well. Pakistani cricket captain Sarfraz Ahmad said every player would contribute Rs 2 lakh each and the team a total of Rs 3.2 million or $26,000. Bank of Punjab officers announced a donation of Rs 10 million. At WAPDA, senior officers promised to donate two days’ salary.

Well-known singer Atif Aslam (Dil diyan gallan/karaange naal-naal beh ke) donated Rs 2.5 million ($20,325). Pakistan’s top journalist Hamid Mir on his show a few days ago took up the campaign and announced that Salman Ahmad, the poet-peace activist-author, would donate $100,000. At this point, the owners of his channel GNN, Zulqarnain Nawaz Chattha and Zubair Nawaz Chattha, were so enthused that they announced a contribution of Rs 5 crore.

On 11 September, the day the world was changed, Mir tweeted: “Water is symbol of life whole region needs water reservoirs we are not helping any individual or government by contributing in the dam fund we are helping humanity we are helping our countrymen who are facing problems due to water shortage this is a bigger problem than terrorism.” (sic)

‘Not everyone is happy’

But not everyone in Pakistan was as carried away. Some claim that instead of focusing on the 40,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court, the CJP is talking about dams and water scarcity.

PML-N party’s stalwart and former commerce minister Ahsan Iqbal pointed out that the ongoing dam fund collections was not the solution to the national crises. He slammed the current government for “begging by carrying the begging bowl in hands” for the funds collection and asked the PTI government to put in place “practical steps” for constructing dams in the country.

A tale of two dams

The project consists of two dams: The Diamer-Bhasha dam, to be located on River Indus, around 165 km downstream of the northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, will produce an estimated 4, 500 megawatts of cheap energy. The location of the Mohmand dam will be on the Swat river, around 48 km from Peshawar in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of the country, and will produce 800 megawatt electricity.

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The estimated cost for both projects is more than $12 billion. Certainly, CJP Nisar’s personal donation of Rs 1 million kick-started the project in the public domain. The dam fund collection gained a big boost when Prime Minister Khan on 7 September announced a merger of the PM-CJP fund to both expand and expedite the process.

“I want to commend Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar [for starting the dams fund], but this was not his job,” he said.

“This was the job of civilian leaders who knew this was going to swell into a crisis but did nothing to thwart it,” he added.

How it all started

Pakistan’s water crisis has been growing exponentially every year. Given the current water storage capacity of just 30 days of river inflow (just 9 per cent of average annual flow as against 40 per cent of the world’s average), reduction in storage capacity of existing reservoirs because of increased rate of sedimentation, irrigation efficiency plummeting to below 40 per cent, Pakistan needs quick and time-tested solutions.

The foundation for the Diamer-Bhasha dam was laid during former President Pervez Musharraf’s tenure in 2006. Former PM Nawaz Sharif had approved the financing aspect of the dam’s construction on 5 December, 2016, but it wasn’t until the Supreme Court’s directions on 4 July, 2018 that the project got a major impetus.

WAPDA has been given responsibility for implementing the project, but the question now is, where will the money come from? China, despite its flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have all failed to fund it for a variety of reasons.

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