Optimism rules as Baglihar project ready for opening

October 10th, 2008 - 2:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghChanderkot (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct 10 (IANS) There was excitement in the air with crowds beginning to gather from the morning to witness Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurate the much debated Baglihar hydel project over the Chenab river Friday afternoon. As television crews and reporters flocked to this mountain locked highway town, 165 km north of Jammu on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, all focus was on the Rs.52 billion (over $1 billion) 900 MW hydel project - to be implemented in two phases of 450 MW each.

Manmohan Singh Friday inaugurates the first phase of the project that promises to alleviate the problems of power starved Jammu and Kashmir.

Said Kuldeep Kumar, a middle-aged blacksmith who migrated to Chanderkot in 1999 after work on the project began: “I shifted here from Udhampur as I knew that this place will offer me better work with start of this project.”

He had shut down his shop for the day to be at hand to see the commissioning of the “dream project that will bring prosperity to the area”.

Qasim Din was happy too.

“Our ancestral land is part of this project. My father wanted to see this project start in his lifetime but he died a few months ago. I am sure he would be watching from the heavens above.”

Mohammad Rafiq is the “main blaster” who paved the way through the mountains for the project.

“I cannot express in words how great it feels to see this project start but I am also sad as my house is getting submerged in this dam in Pul Doda area about 40 km upstream.”

The prime minister will address a public gathering at the Chanderkot Guest House ground from where he will inaugurate the project by pressing a remote button.

He will later fly to Srinagar where he will flag off the first intra-Kashmir valley train Saturday.

According to official figures, the state requires 2,000 MW electricity a day for uninterrupted supply. But even after importing 1,000 MW, supply is only 1,350 MW. The state pays Rs.19.70 billion a year for power.

The Chenab river across which this project is built has the potential to generate 20,000 MW of hydropower.

The Baglihar project, which is being built on the Chenab river and flows from Kashmir into Pakistan, has been a contentious one.

In 2005, Pakistan had sought the World Bank’s intervention to stop construction of the Baglihar dam and the hydroelectricity power project. An expert appointed by the World Bank had allowed India to go ahead with the project after a few minor modifications.

The issue came up last month as well when Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The 1960 treaty distributes the water of Indus and its tributaries between India and Pakistan and provides a mechanism for resolving water disputes. Islamabad contends that the Baglihar dam has deprived Pakistan of critically needed water resources and has threatened to seek the World Bank’s intervention on the plea that New Delhi had not responded to its “repeated complaints” on the issue. India has denied the allegations.

There have also been doubts over the safety of the Baglihar project with some geologists saying it is built over an active fault. The geologists - who spoke on condition of anonymity as they fear harassment by their seniors - said they could not say why this fact had been overlooked.

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