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Unaddressed social concerns

Unaddressed social concerns

COUNTING on the growing energy demand, supportive policy environment and opportunities thrown up by China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Hubco hopes to surmount irritants and satisfy sceptics to move ahead with investment of over $2bn in a joint venture for setting up two 660MW coal-fired power plants at Hub in Balochistan.

Last year the independent power producer joined hands with China Power International Holdings to establish China Power Hub Generation Company (CHPGC) to set up these plants and an integrated coal jetty next to its thermal power station at Hub.

Khalid Mansoor, CEO Hubco, considers development of coal-based power plants, notorious for environment footprint, necessary to achieve energy security. He was confident of not just the projects business viability, he considers it to be highly valuable from economic and social viewpoint. The company, he said, would invest liberally in technology to comply with the environment standards. Talking to Dawn in his office in Karachi he explained the genesis of the country’s energy crisis and the need for coal-based power plants.
“I told them (Hubco) we have no objection provided they fulfil three conditions: ensure environmental standards; keep a job quota for locals and provide electricity to Bela district” — Dr Abdul Malik

“An inappropriate expensive fuel mix used for electricity generation, inadequate recovery of power bills, less than required expansion and modernisation of generation capacity, losses along the supply chain because of archaic distribution network contribute to the making of the debilitating power crisis,” he said.

“The combination of the factors led to power shortage, pushed up the cost to make it unaffordable and generated circular debt exerting pressure on already fragile public finance situation in the country”, he hammered.

He agreed that coal-based power plants, keeping the national indigenous resource base in view, offer a long-term sustainable solution to the energy woes. He regretted opposition to Hubco project from some elements in Balochistan who, he said, were not inclined to look deeper into the benefits it promises to the country and the people of the region where it is based.

Analysts in Balochistan monitoring developments and aware of the debate surrounding the project did not find opposition to the project completely baseless. They thought the reservations about environmental pitfalls, benefits to the local population particularly in terms of employment opportunities, access to electricity to the district where the plant is located and the terms of land utilisation are issues that can’t be dismissed on the pretext of politicising an economic issue.

Dr Abdul Malik, former chief minister of Balochistan who approved the project, was reluctant to support Hubco unreservedly. Talking to Dawn over the telephone, he said, the province needs investment to develop and no sane person would oppose it. However, their past experience has not been particularly pleasant. The people of the province have often been denied their rightful share from dividends of whatever is done in the province in the name of development.

“As a chief minister I was briefed by Hubco. I told them we have no objection provided they fulfil three conditions: ensure environmental standards; keep a job quota for locals and provide electricity to Bela district,” he said.

Former speaker Balochistan Assembly Muhammad Aslam Bhootani, who is leading protests against Hubco and has filed a petition in Balochistan High Court to scrap the project, was in his hometown and could not be reached over phone.

According to reports, in his petition he has pointed out that the local council has passed resolutions opposing the project. He has cited concerns of global organisations such as the UN which is pondering over banning coal-based power plants for health hazards in India which produces as much as 60pc energy from coal where as many as 6m people suffer from asthma and other serious diseases due to polluted environment.

Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and his team of advisors were not able to find time to convey their position on the issue.

Responding to concerns Hubco mailed its response to Dawn point-by-point. On environmental certification it said: “As an integral part of project development, Hubco has carried out an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) study which international consultant Hagler Baily presented in a public hearing at the Balochistan Environment Protection Agency. The concerns of the ESIA study will be fully complied”.

“With the state-of-the-art equipment such as Flue-gas Desulfurization (FGD) to control SOx, low NOx burners, Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP) for Particulate Matter, the project will meet all the international standards. Liquid effluent treatment plants will also be installed. Furthermore, the company will also ensure that industrial effluents discharged by the project do not go beyond the limits set out by the NEQS, ensuring that there is no adverse impact on the marine ecology of the surrounding area”, it added.

For the job quota for locals, the company said: “It always strives for the local employment and encourages its contractors to hire local people according to their ability and skills. Currently 53 out of 270 permanent employees are locals (19pc of the total technical workforce).

“Apart from this, more than 250 local people (35pc of the total) are working with the company through various service providers (contractors). For the coal project, the preference will be given to the locals for all the semi-skilled and unskilled jobs”.

The position of Hubco was straight forward on provision of electricity to Bela, “The distribution of electricity comes under the ambit of Federal Ministry of Water and Power. Hubco is a power producer and is required to sell the electricity to Wapda/NTDC under a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA). Hubco does not have any control over the transmission and distribution of the electricity”.

On the demand to renegotiate land deal Hubco said: “We own 1,458 acres of which 717 acres were obtained from the Government of Balochistan (GoB) and 741 acres were acquired by the GoB and transferred to Hubco.

“Both the lands are freehold. Hubco is required to obtain GoB’s permission to transfer any part of the 741 acres. We have already obtained the NOC (dated Jan 22, 2016) from the GoB”.

Courtesy : Dawn News



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