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NAB to probe Thar underground coal gasification project

19 October, 2018

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The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe Thar underground coal gasification project, a private TV channel reported.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar heard the suo motu case regarding Thar coal power project. Prominent scientist and chairman of underground coal gasification project in Thar Dr Samar Mubarakmand appeared for the hearing.

The bench ordered the auditor general to conduct forensic audit of the project and submit a report within 15 days. The Sindh chief secretary was directed to seize the project’s belongings.

“The project’s feasibility report is not clear. It was said that 10,000MW of electricity will be produced for 30 years, but according to experts the project will lower underground water reserves and affect the environment,” court adviser Salman Akram Raja informed the bench. “One committee has said that this is a failed project and more funds should not be allocated for it. Those who approved the project should have also looked into it,” he added.

At this, the chief justice said, “For the first time I have realised what a billion is. Billions of rupees were spent like [dried] leaves fly from a tree. Rs 3.8 billion have already been spent on this project and who is responsible for this? Does Dr Mubarakmand have to pay this money?” he asked.

Where did Dr Mubarakmand’s tall claims go? Should this matter not be sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or a fresh investigation be initiated? “Justice Nisar questioned the court adviser. “A lot of noise was created over the project that something not done by any scientist before was done this time,” the chief justice said. “A 100MW project is not generating even 3MW of electricity,” he lamented.

“Pakistan is a poor country and is this how we will continue to waste our money? There are two ways of producing electricity from Thar underground coal gasification project – either through coal or by operating the way plants set-up on the ports do,” the chief justice said.

NAB prosecutor Asghar Haider then submitted a report regarding the projects before the bench. “According to engineers, it is not possible to generate electricity from underground coal gasification,” it said.

Court advisers Salman Akram Raja and Shehzad Elahi also submitted their recommendations, following which the chief justice asked about the positions of the federal and Sindh governments on the matter. The advocate general Sindh informed the court, “The project was entirely funded by the federal government and only the land belongs to the Sindh government.” Dr Muabarakmand then said, “The project did not cause any environmental degradation. An Australian company was also working on an underground gasification project … lawyers cannot judge this project.”

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