By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: Another controversy like the Kalabagh Dam is in the making as mistrust between the federal government and Sindh grows with every passing day on the development of Thar coal, the greatest national wealth and energy resource worth US$6 trillion.
At a time when the Federal Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources is seeking expression of interest from international companies for the development of a test-pit of 1/2km x 1/2km for preparation of a bankable feasibility document for coalmine development, based on the Thar Coalfield Block-II, the Sindh government finds it as a federal government’s move to take over the provincial resources.
The petroleum ministry requested for expression of interest on June 3 through advertisements in national newspapers but Sindh authorities decided to resist this move. Sources in the petroleum ministry strongly deny that the federal government has any intention to take over the provincial resources, insisting that Islamabad is helping the province to develop the Thar coal as the province could not do it because of financial constraints.
Referring to the Question-Hour in the National Assembly on Wednesday, a senior Sindh government official told this correspondent that the minister in-charge for Petroleum and Natural Resources, while admitting that the coal resources belonged to the province, kept on pressing that the Thar Coal Mining Company was functioning with the consent of Sindh. “This is contrary to what the Government of Sindh had been telling the petroleum ministry,” the official said.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources had issued a National Mineral Policy in 1995 in which the mineral resources had been termed as a provincial subject. The idea of the Thar Coal Company by the federal government was conceived in 2007, in which Sindh government was 20% partner as compared to 80% of the federal government. The fact, however, remains that the company never got acceptance in the province. The Arbab government kept on opposing it and no work could be done on ground due to opposition by the provincial government.
The present Sindh government also actively opposed what Sindh believes attempts to take over the control of the Thar coal resources by the federal government in the name of the Thar Coal Mining Company (TCMC). In a meeting of the federal cabinet last month, the federal ministers belonging to Sindh also opposed this “federal takeover” and were able to unanimously decide that the Sindh government would be handling the development of coalmines by inviting investors while the federal ministries would not interfere, the source said, adding that the proposal by the Planning Commission to form the Pakistan Coal Board was rejected too.
“The decision by the prime minister in the cabinet meeting not to interfere in this provincial subject went well and the Government of Sindh started actively working on Thar project,” the Sindh government source said, adding, “Advertisements appeared last month, calling for proposals from international mining companies but all of a sudden the Petroleum ministry came up with its own advertisement.”
“It would create a new row between the province and the federation,” the source said, warning that the people of Pakistan might see another energy dream being frustrated due to mishandling by bureaucracy.
The Sindh authorities shift all the blame on the federal government for the non-development of the Thar Coalfield. Last time, it is argued, it was Wapda and Nepra that had scared away the Shenhua Group of China. The government of Sindh and the Chinese company, sources said, spent two years and billions of rupees and were ready to start work when the Chinese were turned back on the issue of tariff.
Federal government sources, however, insist that Islamabad is only assisting Sindh to develop the Thar Coalfield, which could not be developed in the past on account of the financial constraints faced by the provincial government. A petroleum ministry official said that out of 9,000 square kilometers of Thar coal reserves, hardly six blocks, each of 50 square kilometers, had been developed for coal production. This was done by the Geological Survey of Pakistan, a federal entity.
In 2002 a bankable feasibility of Thar coal mining was conducted by Rehien Brauan Engineering of Germany at the cost of Rs 198 million, financed by the federal government. However, this feasibility report was sold to an American company by the Sindh Coal Authority for US$50,000 instead of developing the mines. “We are only helping them out and have no intention to take over the deposits,” a source said, adding that all the federal government entities were working in the provinces for their benefit.
Source: The News, 6/6/2008