Thar Coal scam
Mohammad Jamil


After Supreme Court of Pakistan gave its verdict on 7th January, 2013 declaring the agreement on Reko Diq signed on July 23, 1993 as void and in conflict with the laws of the country, another mega scam appears to be in the offing. Tethyan Copper Company Pvt Limited (TCC) lost its case in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on December 13, 2012. The ICSID allowed the government of Balochistan and Dr Samar Mubarakmand to continue with their mining project in Reko Diq. According to a recent report, the management of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a subsidiary of Engro Group, was engaged in feasibility study of the coal mining of Thar coal. The company is also deliberating with Indians to sell Pakistani coal to India for their projects in Gujrat and Naveli Tamil Nadu, which is a cause of concern for the nation.

It has been learnt that Indian Embassy Economic and Commercial Counsellor, Mr. Arvind Saxena (Raw Station Chief) at Islamabad is facilitating Indian-based companies for striking deal between SECMC and TATA & DEHL. A Parliamentary trade delegation comprising 20 members, including Nafisa Shah, daughter of Chief Minister Sindh visited India during July 2012 and discussed the possibilities of cooperation on Thar Coal Project. Rumors abound that USA-India backed corrupt political-cum-business mafia is involved in this multi billion dollars scam, and key players allegedly include co-chairman of a political party, Syeda Nafisa Shah (MNA-PPP), Dr Mahesh Malani (MNA-PPP). Experts are of the view that Thar Coal project should preferably be developed under the administration and technical consultation of Major General (r) Pervez Akmal, Corps of Engineers, who is already working to develop an institutional model for Thar Coal or Dr. Shahid Muneer, Director of Center for Coal Technology, University of Punjab.

It has to be mentioned that the Thar coal field is estimated to have reserves of 175 billion tons, 68 times higher than Pakistan’s total gas reserves. Among others, German and Australian investors are keen to invest in Thar Coal project. Last year, Ambassador of Australia to Pakistan Peter Heyward had said that his country was interested in Thar Coal development, as major Australian mining and oil and gas companies are keenly watching developments in Pakistan. This he stated while talking to a delegation of Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) led by its founder President Samina Fazil. According to a press report of January 8, 2013, the Thar Coal Project which has the potential to change the energy landscape of Pakistan continues to move slowly, thanks to country’s economic managers. There is a perception vested interests are out to ensure it does not happen. Currently, Pakistan’s effective power generation capacity stands at 14,000MW.

At the current growth rate, Pakistan will require 26,000MW by 2020 out of which around 10,000MW could be produced from Thar Coal. Primary objective of Thar Coal development is to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity to consumers using indigenous resource. Reliance on indigenous fuel will help save billions of dollars in foreign exchange, which are currently being spent on import of expensive RFO (Refined Furnace Oil). Pakistan is endowed with enormous natural resources and minerals, if explored and utilized properly, Pakistan can become a self-reliant country and get rid of dependency syndrome. Weak economy, technical resource constraints coupled with flawed decisions of the inept governments have brought the country to the present pass. Instead of relying on our own talent, the vested interest provided opportunities to the foreign investors to drain out our resources for obvious reasons.

Recently, representatives of Sindh Coal Authority, project coordinator Engro, Oracle Coalfield UK, PCSIR and coal gasification project gave presentations to the committee on the progress of their projects. It is rather strange that Dr. Samar Mubarakmand the pioneer of the project did not attend the meeting. Was he kept out because others want to take the credit or they have axe to grind. Both federal government and Sindh government should provide the committed share of the allocated funds for these projects. Dr Mubarakmand has said that coal reserves are also available in powder form under water, and Pakistan could produce 50,000 megawatt electricity and 100 million barrel diesel just through the gasification of these reserves. Large reserves of coal in Thar can help generate energy to save billions of dollars spent on import of oil.

In the past, many a time it was suggested by experts to prepare a plan for gainful exploitation of the huge coal reserves in Thar for producing electricity but some ‘vested interests’ were reported to have obstructed the plan. Given the prohibitive cost of oil, meeting energy needs has become a challenge for both developed and developing countries; and to keep the wheels of industry going every country is obliged to keep this subject on the top of its agenda. Pakistan is endowed with enormous reserves of coal in Thar, Lakhra and other places, but no serious effort has been made to exploit these coal reserves and establish the coal-fired power plants. It is true there are financial constraints and international pressures on installation of nuclear reactors and generation of electricity. The government should expedite the development of Thar Coal project, which involves much less investment as compared with large reserves.

It was in 1992 that the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) discovered huge sub-surface deposits of coal - the second largest in the world - in Tharparkar District, Sindh. Last year, the Punjab Forum (PF) had requested the Supreme Court (SC) to take notice of conspiracies against Thar Coal project. “Supreme Court should immediately take notice of the situation and initiate action against lobbies which are working to advance the agenda of foreign powers and multinational oil companies”, said Baig Raj, President of the Punjab Forum. The problem is that Thar Coal project needs investment from $ 1 billion to $3 billion for infrastructure and development of the field, and the government instead of relying on local talent and funds wants to give contract to aliens giving overriding consideration to personal over national interest.