Energy remains top priority

Malik M Ashraf

WITH the inauguration of Chashma-III nuclear power plant on last Wednesday by the Prime Minsiter which will add 340 MW of electricity to the national grid, the situation in regards to power outages, which have already been reduced considerably, will improve further. The likely coming on stream of Chashma-IV in April this year with a similar power production capacity, also promises a big boost in the overall power generating capacity of the country. The Prime Minister who is personally monitoring the implementation of projects under CPEC, especially the power units, while inaugurating the plant emphatically declared that tiding over the energy crisis was the top priority of the PML (N) government.
In view of the track record of the government in easing the power situation in the country during the last three years and the projects in hand, one can hardly take an issue with what the Prime Minister said. The government undoubtedly has remained focused on pursuing its economic agenda, including tackling the energy crisis, unruffled by the shenanigans of its political opponents who have made relentless efforts to foment a political crisis in the country. Tiding over the energy crisis is not only imperative from the economic perspective but also from the political stand point for the PML (N).
It is estimated that power generating projects under CPEC which are already underway would add around 10966 MW electricity to the national grid by March 2018 against an expected shortfall of 7000 to 8000 MW, which means the country will have not only surmounted the energy shortage by then but would also become energy-surplus entity. It is pertinent to point out that the government is actually contemplating to produce more than 30000 MW electricity by 2022.In view of the fact that the present distribution system was not capable to handle the increased production of electricity, the government has also undertaken the task of improving the transmission system in all parts of the country.
The CPEC is undoubtedly a much needed recipe for changing economic profile of Pakistan and making it a hub of economic activity in the region and also a harbinger of regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity. It was indeed a visionary decision on the part of the government to join this initiative that has also led to exponential increase in our economic ties with our great friend China. It is indeed gratifying to note that in the meeting of the Joint Coordination committee (JCC) held in Beijing on 28-29 December it has been agreed to also include Bhasha Dam, Peshawar-Karachi Railway line, Karachi circular railway, Orange Line train for all the provincial capitals, Keti Bander, eight special economic zones and three more energy projects in Sindh in the CPEC package, raising the total investment to $ 57 billion from $ 46 billion.
Hopefully this would satisfy the KP and Sindh government who have been demanding their due share in the CPEC. Reportedly in a meeting presided by the Prime Minister to review the benchmarks set for the energy, transport, infrastructure and industrial projects with particular focus on development and socio-economic uplift undertakings at Gawdar, the planning minister was asked by the premier to have these projects included in CPEC in the JCC meeting. The biggest beneficiary of CPEC would be province of Balochistan through which all road networks and railway will pass to connect with Gwadar. The projects that China is financing in Gwadar apart from port and international airport include East Bay Express Way, Breakwaters, 300 MW coal power plant, dredging of the harbour and the construction of 300-bed hospital. These projects will cost $ 757 million which China would provide on zero rate of interest, meaning thereby that Pakistan will have to return only the principal amount.
The amount of $230 million to be spent on Gwadar International airport will be given to government of Pakistan by China as a grant which will not be paid back. A technical training centre named Pak-China Technical and Vocational Institute at Gwadar is also being established to impart technical training to the local residents to develop skills to operate and work at the expanded Gwadar Port. All these projects are designed to benefit the local population of Gwadar.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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