EDITORIAL: The Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan 2021-30, approved by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), has already run into troubles with Sindh considering raising it at the next joint session of parliament and, if needed, going to court about it. But that much was expected when the government pressed for giving hydel projects the lead in the country's energy mix over the next 10 years. That rubs not just the Sindh government the wrong way, which was counting on wind and solar energy projects based in its province to get a larger, and much fairer, share, but also environmental and climate experts and activists who are always up in arms about such things.
The point is that hydel comes with significant environmental and social costs. It is because of just such reasons that the leading international financial institutions (IFIs) have moved away from financing such projects. And the government's contention that most of the projects are run-of-the-river projects is simply not true because almost all the hydel (approximately 97pc) is going to come from large dams, which will surely exacerbate environmental issues as well as water-related internal social conflicts. How that is in the interest of anybody, especially the power needs of households and industry, is difficult to see just yet.
There's also the point that such projects are forbiddingly expensive. The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government made a big fuss about scarcity of water and need for dams when it first came to power. It even invited Pakistanis from all over the world to contribute to a fund that would be used to build dams; but it soon turned out that neither IFIs nor expat Pakistanis were much interested in financing such outrageous, unfeasible projects when there were far better and more affordable alternatives available. Pakistan is, after all, a developing country which will not be able to finance the kind of projects that it has now put at the centre of its energy policy for the next decade. Surely, the energy crisis should not make the government forget the Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis that also hangs over our heads.
The constitution requires a federal or provincial government not satisfied with a CCI decision to take it to a joint session of parliament, which is exactly what the Sindh government has decided to do as soon as it gets the minutes from the CCI meeting. The Sindh government asserts that the PM, who presided over the CCI meeting, went there with his mind pretty much made up because of his alleged anti-PPP (Pakistan People's Party) bias. Clearly, this matter has been made controversial for no apparent reason whatsoever. And while it now heads to parliament and then most likely to the courts, the government cannot be absolved of responsibility for having opened yet another can of worms; this time about a matter as sensitive as the country's energy requirements.
There should be a better way of conducting cost-benefit analyses of available energy-producing resources and getting everybody to adopt the most feasible options. As things stand, some parties, especially the federal and Sindh governments, simply agree to disagree about everything under the sky no matter how important one thing or the other is for the country or the people. Pakistan needs to move away from such partisan politics and adopt a more inclusive policymaking framework. If we can't agree about something as straightforward as solving our energy problems by using our available resources, then there cannot be much that we can all work together on. If we always take one step forward and two steps back, the whole country will end up regressing.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021