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President shelves small dam projects

zardariISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered an investigation into an unusual 180 per cent increase in the cost of five small dams in just a year and asked the authorities concerned to shelve the projects.

Sources told Dawn on Thursday that the president was surprised to know that the cost estimates had increased because of inclusion of unnecessary and irrelevant components in feasibility studies.

He verified facts about the power generation and water storage capacity of the dams from the ministry of water and power and the Planning Commission and expressed displeasure over reports that some people had tried to misuse his name during the approval process.

The president asked Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf and the Planning Commission to identify viable alternative projects in the water sector to utilise a $700 million loan offered by China.Officials said that the president’s intervention had saved about Rs64.5 billion.

One official said that the president had approved the projects after having been informed at a briefing a few months ago that over 40,000 poor people would benefit from them, but he was not aware that they would generate only 9.5 megawatts of power and store 460,000 acre feet of water.

Some government officials added soft components to the projects. A Rs1.6 billion component of solar pumps was added to the Naulong dam whose per unit electricity cost was over Rs136, although it could have generated 4MW from its own water releases. Similarly, Rs850 million was allocated for solar pumps at Darawat dam. And a Rs3.75 billion component for development of command area with high efficiency irrigation system was added to the project.

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