A Dam Scandal: Pakistan raised Rs 9 billion for a dam, spent Rs 14 billion on advertisements for it

Pakistan's parliament has summoned former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar to provide an explanation regarding the Diamer-Bhasha Dam Fund that was established during his time in the top judicial position. In 2018, he initiated crowd-funding for the project, stating that it would help counter water woes

FP Explainers September 15, 2022 14:51:44 IST
A Dam Scandal: Pakistan raised Rs 9 billion for a dam, spent Rs 14 billion on advertisements for it

Once constructed, the Diamer-Bhasha dam on the Indus river will produce 4500 MW of electricity. It will also be able to store 8.1 MAF of water. Image Courtesy: @PTIPoliticsss/Twitter

At a time when Pakistan is reeling from the aftermath of catastrophic floods, a scandal over the funds collected for the construction of a dam has emerged, pointing fingers at the former dispensation of Imran Khan and former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.

Questions over the funds for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River come as devastating floods have inundated hundreds of villages across much of Pakistan’s fertile land, killing 1,500 people — nearly half of whom are children — and displacing more than 33 million from their homes. According to officials, the flooding is the worst to hit the country in recent history and it may take three to six months for the floodwaters to recede.

Also read: Marooned Pakistan should blame its generals and politicians as India is looking the other way

Here’s what we know of the scandal and how and Pakistanis are reacting to it.

The scandal

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the parliament has summoned former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar to provide explanations regarding the Diamer-Bhasha Dam Fund that was established during his time in the top judicial position.

Nisar, the then CJP, had taken the initiative of collecting donations for the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams by launching the fund in July 2018 that was later joined by then prime minister Imran Khan, making it a joint venture to overcome the country’s water scarcity.

PAC member and Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s Barjees Tahir, as per a Dawn report, claimed that Rs 9 billion had been collected as donations for the damn, but Rs 14 billion was spent as advertisements on it.

The donations for the construction of the dam came from various avenues. The Vice reports that the army gave up a portion of soldiers’ salaries to provide Rs 1 billion. Additionally, salaries of states employees were deducted, which went straight as donations for the dam.

The country’s cricket team and other famous musicians also contributed. In 2018, Pakistani cricket captain Sarfraz Ahmad said every player would contribute Rs 2 lakh each and the team a total of Rs 3.2 million. Well-known singer Atif Aslam donated Rs 2.5 million.

However, since the retirement of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who had launched the venture with much zeal, all parties lost interest in the fund and donations petered out to nearly zero.

People speak up

As the allegations of misuse and ‘corruption’ emerged, people began to express their regret of donating towards the dam, as it becomes clearer that it is nowhere to close being built.

All about the dam

Now embroiled in controversy, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam on the Indus River was originally proposed in the early 1980s.

However, the project was only green-lit by President Pervez Musharraf’s government in 2006. However, both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank refused to finance it, citing the dam’s location in disputed Kashmir.

It was only in 2018 that the project in Gilgit-Baltistan got an impetus when Saqib Nisar, the newly appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court at the time, made the construction of the dam, which would cost a whopping $14 billion, a central focus of his judicial activism efforts.

With the height of 272 metres, once constructed it will be the tallest Roller Compact Concrete (RCC) dam in the world. Officials have said that the dam will have a gross storage capacity of 8.1 Million Acre Feet (MAF) and power generation capacity of 4500 MW.

In May 2020, it was reported that China had stepped in and offered to help Pakistan with the construction of the dam. The Pakistani government had then signed a Rs 442 billion contract with a joint venture of China Power and Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) for the construction of the dam.

While Pakistani officials maintain how the dam will solve the nation’s problems of flooding, there are some who have stated that the infrastructure could actually be an ecological disaster.

An Economic Times report had stated that a letter written by the original designer of the dam, General Butt, in 2004 to then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf read, “I shudder at the thought of earthquake effects on Bhasha. Dam-burst would wipe out Tarbela and all barrages on Indus; which would take us back to the stone-age.”

Further, in a September 2018 letter addressed to the then chief justice of Pakistan, one of the US’ foremost design and infrastructure firms, AECOM, cautioned against the Diamer-Basha dam. The letter said, “If Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) decides to proceed with this concept, the cost would be exorbitant and construction time would exceed ten years. The project risk associated with an RCC dam is extremely high due to the transportation issue and seismic profile found at the location of the project. In summation, for practical and economic reasons the RCC dam should not be recommended for the DBD project.”

With inputs from agencies

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