Supreme Court directs NAB to probe Thar Coal Project

  • Dr Samar says ‘lawyers cannot judge this project’

  • CJP claims ‘national exchequer suffered a loss of Rs4 billion’

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC ) on Thursday directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe Thar underground coal gasification project and ordered a forensic report within 15 days.

As a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar heard the suo motu case regarding Thar coal power project, the prominent scientist and chairman of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) project in Thar Dr Samar Mubarakmand appeared in court.

The bench also ordered the auditor general to conduct a forensic audit of the project and submit a report within 15 days. Further, the Sindh chief secretary was directed to seize the project’s belongings.

During the hearing, the chief justice remarked, “No corruption was done in this project.”

However, court adviser Salman Akram Raja informed the bench, “The project’s feasibility report was not clear. It was said that 10,000MW will be produced for 30 years but according to experts the project will lower underground water reserves and affect the environment.”

Raja continued: “One committee has said that this is a failed project and more funds should not be allocated for it. Those who approved Mubarakmand’s project should have also looked into it.” At this, the chief justice said, “For the first time I realised what a billion is. Billions of rupees were spent like [dried] leaves fly from a tree.”

“Rs3.8 million have already been spent on this project and who is responsible for this? Does Dr Mubarakmand have to pay this money?” he asked.

Justice Nisar further questioned the court adviser, “Where did Dr Mubarakmand’s tall claims go? Should this matter not be sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or should a fresh investigation be initiated?”

“A lot of noise was created over the project that something not done by any scientist before was done this time,” the chief justice said.

“A 100MW project is not even generating 3MW of electricity.” The chief justice further said, “Pakistan is a poor country and is this how we will waste our money? There are two ways of producing electricity from Thar underground coal gasification project — either through coal or by operating the way plants set up on the ports do.”

NAB prosecutor Asghar Haider then submitted a report regarding the projects before the bench. “According to engineers, it is not possible to generate electricity from underground coal gasification.”

Court advisers Raja and Shehzad Elahi also submitted their recommendations following which the chief justice asked about “the position of the federal and Sindh governments.”

The Sindh advocate general then informed the court, “The project was entirely funded by the federal government and only the land belongs to the Sindh government.”

In response, Dr Mubarakmand added: “The project did not cause any environmental degradation. An Australian company was also working on an underground gasification project and lawyers cannot judge this project.”

“I knew you would say this,” Justice Nisar said in response to Dr Mubarakmand.

“When you made these claims, they were romanticised and it was said that free electricity will be provided but the national exchequer suffered a loss of Rs4 billion.”