India’s Avaricious Eyes on Thar Coal Project


By Sajjad Shaukat

In the recent past, by showing a sense of great optimism for the peace of the region, Pakistan agreed with Indian old demand to strengthen the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in order to resolve the outstanding issues such as terrorism, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage and water including main dispute of Kashmir.

As part of the CBMs, under the Aman Ki Asha initiative, recently renowned Pakistani and Indian media anchors, retired high civil and military officials including film stars have participated in various gatherings in both the countries to create favourable atmosphere for the peace process, and to discuss practical solution to the bilateral issues.

During the visit of Indias External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to Pakistan on September 9, 2012, Islamabad and New Delhi also signed agreements of liberalised visa regime and a memorandum of understanding on cultural exchanges in addition to agreeing on new cross-Line of Control (LoC) Confidence Building Measures related to trade and travel. Although Pakistan was already importing vegetables from India through Wagah border, yet implementation of these new agreements has started. Besides, Islamabad also signed a number of trade agreements with New Delhi, which allowed India exports of mutltiple items across the Wagah border. It is also likely to grant India Most Favoured Nation status, which permits trade in almost everything.

In fact, trade between both the neighbouring countries is more beneficial to Indian largest economy than Pakistan. While using delaying tactics for the settlement of real issues, India has been availing the opportunity of CBMs to get maximum economic advantage from Pakistan. In these terms, Indian greed for materialistic gains is unlimited.

In this regard, a recent report disclosed that the management of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a subsidiary of Engro Group was engaged in feasibility study of the coal mining in Thar. Regrettably, our media did not take the notice that the company is also considering to sell Pakistani coal to India for latters projects in Tamil Nadu, Gujrat and Naveli, which is a cause of concern for all Pakistanis.

Some online reliable sources suggest that Indian Embassy Economic and Commercial Counsellor, Arvind Saxena who is Raw Station Chief at Islamabad is making strenuous efforts for striking deal between SECMC and Indian-based companies, Tethyan Copper Company Pvt Limited (TCC) and Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL). In this connection, Arvind Saxsena arranged different visits of SECMC officials to India.

However, in July 2012, a parliamentary trade delegation of Pakistan which also included daughter of chief minister Sindh, Nafisa Shah, visited New Delhi and discussed the feasibility and possibility of cooperation on Thar Coal Project. For the purpose, Dr Mahesh Malani, (MNA) close associate of Pakistans President Asif Ali Zardari also visited New Delhi. Earlier, Indian delegation of five persons also visited Lahore and Karachi and held meetings with Pakistani concerned businessmen.
It is notable that the management of SECMC admitted that it is in consultation with the Indian companies TATA Power and BHEL for technology transfers to conduct open cast mining of Thar coal.

Meanwhile, there are rumors that corrupt political and business mafia, backed by the US and India is secretly involved in this multibillion dollars project, while main players allegedly include co-chairman of a political party and some officials of Pakistan.

On the other hand, Pakistans 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. And services of Dr Shahid Muneer who is Director of Center for Coal Technology at the University of Punjab should also be got for the project.

It is estimated that the Thar coal field of Sindh has reserves of 175 billion tons which are 70 times higher than Pakistans total gas reserves. It is due to this reason that Australian and German investors also desire to invest in Thar Coal Project. In this context, in 2012, while talking to a delegation of Islamabad Womens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI), Australian Ambassador to Pakistan Peter Heyward said that Australia is interested in Thar coal development because key Australian mining and oil and gas companies have keenly been watching these developments in Pakistan.

This is worth-mentioning that representatives of Sindh Coal Authority, project coordinator Engro, Oracle Coalfield UK, and coal gasification project gave presentation to the committee on the progress of their projects. But Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, the pioneer of the project did not participate in the meeting. The best way is that both federal and Sindh governments should provide the committed share of the allocated funds for these projects. Dr. Mubarakmand has already revealed that coal reserves are also available in powder form under waterPakistan could produce 50,000 megawatt electricity and 100 million barrel diesel just through the gasification of these reserves.

Reportedly, in 1992, the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) discovered huge sub-surface deposits of coal, the second largest in the world as located in Tharparkar District of Sindh.

Notably, a press report of January 8, 2013 pointed out that the Thar Coal Project which has high potential to change the energy landscape of Pakistan continues to move slowly. It must be developed by countrys technical experts and economic managers who should ensure that vested interests do not participate in developing the project.

At present, Pakistans power generation capacity stands at 14,000MW, while the country will require 26,000MW by 2020, out of which around 10,000MW could be produced from Thar coal. So, the main aim of developing Thar Coal Project is to provide affordable and sustainable electricity to consumers using domestic resources. Reliance on indigenous fuel is likely to save billions of dollars in foreign exchange, which are currently being spent on import of expensive RFO (Refined Furnace Oil).
Now, the dilemma is that Thar Coal Project needs investment of about 3 billion dollars for infrastructure and development. But, instead of relying on local funds, rulers seek to give contract to alien powers which are working against the national interest of Pakistan.

It is fortune of Pakistan that it has huge natural and minerals resources. In case of proper exploration and utilisation of these resources, Pakistan can not only become a self-reliant country, but can also get rid of dependency on other hostile countries. No doubt, faulty decisions of the incompetent governments, fragile economy and lack of modern technology brought the country to the present multiple crises. Particularly, Islamabad must also get the help of China to develop the Thar Coal Project, as the Chinese companies are already working at various projects in the country.

Especially, Pakistans media should expose the designs of internal and external entities which intend to provide opportunities to the anti-Pakistan foreign investors regarding Thar coal. Media commentators should also emphasise that in coordination with its close friend China, the countrys reliance on its own talent and resources is necessary for the development of this project.

It is of particular attention that by taking note of the foreign plotters regarding Balochistans Reko-Diq gold and copper mining project, the Supreme Court of Pakistan gave its verdict on January 7, 2013 declaring the agreement signed in this respect on July 23, 1993 as void and in conflict with the laws of the country.

Similarly, Supreme Court should also take notice of the Thar Coal Project, while the Punjab Forum (PF) has requested the apex court in this respect. In this context, President of the Punjab Forum, Baig Raj stated, 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.

Nonetheless, under the cover of CBMs, India which has rapidly been promoting its trade with Pakistan has avaricious eyes on the Thar Coal Project.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power.

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