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EDITORIAL: In yet more bad news for Pakistan’s blighted power sector, serious design flaws have been identified in the 969MW Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project (NJHPP), which has been off-grid since the first week of May, causing a financial impact to the tune of Rs55 billion per annum.

This is just the latest setback the project has faced, as it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons ever since its inception. Its shutdown was followed by the prime minister ordering an inquiry into the possible causes, with the investigation panel being manned by senior bureaucrats. It should be noted that a month before the shutdown, a major operational issue had been discovered in the NJHPP that had resulted in considerable pressure fluctuations in the project’s headrace tunnel (HRT), with the press reporting the de-watering of a 17km section of the tunnel, indicating some sort of a crack in the HRT, but with little else concrete information emerging at the time, the need for a detailed inquiry was evident.

Now, with reports of the serious design flaws emerging, it is imperative that pressure is exerted upon the builders of the project to rectify the faults as soon as possible, as the country can ill-afford a project of such magnitude remaining off-grid for this long.

The story of the NJHPP is one marked by a series of never-ending problems, from multiple missed deadlines with respect to its completion to significant cost overruns and an earlier 13-month-long shutdown that lasted from July 2022 to August-September 2023 due to major cracks being discovered in its 3.5km tailrace tunnel (TRT). It should be noted that the 2022 shutdown had occurred just four years after the project had been completed at a massive cost of Rs508 billion.

With another shutdown occurring less than a year after the NJHPP was made operational, there was always a high possibility of there being significant design and engineering failings in its construction.

While its builders need to be questioned over their performance and made to remedy the deficiencies that have emerged on an urgent basis, the debacle also raises questions over the kind of governmental oversight there was over the project. Why did the power ministry, Wapda and other governmental bodies fail to identify these design flaws while the NJHPP was still in its construction phase?

It should also be noted that the inquiry committee tasked by the PM with investigating the causes of this latest shutdown has also been charged with ascertaining the reasons for the delay in submission of the findings of the experts who had been hired to examine why the earlier 2022 shutdown had occurred.

Now, press reports have revealed in recent days that these experts, while investigating the collapse of the TRT in 2022, had pointed towards several geographical faults, as well as flawed construction procedures, and significantly, had also raised red flags about the HRT and had recommended certain precautionary measures to ensure its safety and stability. It has further emerged that these recommendations weren’t followed by Wapda and the Neelum-Jhelum Company, and it is imperative that answers are sought regarding why the experts’ suggestions were ignored and responsibility apportioned for the fiasco.

On current evidence, it is difficult to disregard the conclusion that the entire saga of the NJHPP speaks of utter incompetence on the part of various stakeholders, including the builders of the project, Wapda, the power ministry and the Neelum-Jhelum Company.

With the public expected to weather hours-long load-shedding on a daily basis in the summer months as well as foot exorbitant bills, the least the government could do was to ensure the smooth running of vital power projects. It clearly hasn’t been able to do so and it is the people of Pakistan that have to pay the price.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Jul 04, 2024 10:55am
The nation must accept that, ''Corrupt system cannot deliver nor assure future of our society or Pakistan''. Expecting honesty from them is a folly, they thrive by using fear of authoritarian regime.
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Mian Shaukat Hussain Jul 04, 2024 06:19pm
@KU, Agree with your conclusion, 100%
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