Ramban, Oct 9: Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh is inaugurating the first phase of the state-owned prestigious 900MW Baglihar hydel project on the Chenab River Friday. The project is of two phases of 450MW each.
After the NHPC owned Dul Husti project, it is the second biggest hydroelectric project constructed on the mighty Chenab.
The construction of the Baglihar was started in 1999 but the project ran into several controversies with Pakistan knocking the door of the World Bank in 2005 raising objections regarding the height of the dam and alleged it was being built in contravention to the Indus Water Treaty provisions which stated that the neutral expert's decision was final.
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly had passed a resolution in 2003 asking New Delhi to reconsider the IWT to safeguard the interests of the state.
The World Bank gave the go-ahead after appointing a neutral expert who asked India to reduce the height of the dam by 1.5 metre, as against a proposed height of 144.5 metre. Later a three-member team from Pakistan led by Central Water Commission Commissioner, Syed Jamait Ali Shah, visited the project and gave it a clean chit after the inspection.
An amount of Rs 4,125.92 crore has been spent on the project constructed by Jay Prakash Industries.
The project ran into another controversy after the news of the substandard material being used in its construction hogged the headlines of many newspapers. This was followed by a dispute between the company and the workers. The company agreed to pay the retrenchment benefit on the Dul hasti pattern.
Experts opine the project is built over an active geological fault that may put question marks on the very existence of the project. This fault is part of the Murree Thrust that runs from Pakistan up to Himachal Pradesh through the project area. It is being said that during the 2005 earthquake, a four-km stretch of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway that passes through this active fault area had got blocked due to landslides which has also created problems. However the government has notified the area around the project as "Protected Area"
The darker side of the Baglihar, however, remains since it displaced hundreds of families as a result of the submergence and land acquisition. Pul Doda, the busiest place on Jammu Kishtwar Highway after Batote, has now turned into lake, rendering shopkeepers jobless. The bridge over the River Chenab at Pul Doda connecting Doda City with the erstwhile Doda district headquarter, is about to submerge and the alternate bridge is yet to be constructed. The Highway connecting Kishtwar with the state has partially submerged and the under construction alternate route for Kishtwar makes the distance longer by 15 kilometres.
The project ran into financial difficulties with the state government taking loans from five different financial institutions. It was initially slated to be completed at a cost of Rs 4000 crores by June 2006. The project received a severe setback, as its tunnels got severely damaged in floods. The natural calamity resulted in time and cost over-run in the project with the project cost rising from Rs 4000 crores to Rs 5200 crores.