VIEW : Coal power — Fakir S Ayazuddin DAILYTIMES Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Thar coal is much larger than a magic trick, and we should get very serious about this project, as it can turn our country around
We Pakistanis are so gullible that even our scientific elite are entrapped by the quacks of today. A case in point is the water-driven car. This magic trick has been already shown on many circus shows, and never made it beyond the magician’s spot. Yet in Pakistan we watch the anchors on television channels discussing the merits and demerits of the WDC (water-driven car). Our gullible public who have already been deprived of their hard-earned money courtesy the many Ponzi scams, and yet the public lines up for more of the same, including our Samad Dadabhoy, Double Shahs, and the like.
The whole world is still digging the coal out of the ground transporting it by sea and rail to the point of use. Government of Pakistan must concentrate on the mining of this precious product and distribution into the domestic market, and for the export trade. Both markets are huge, while the raw material is so close to the surface that it can be dug manually. The use of coal is hundreds of years old, and has fired the hearths of billions of people on all continents. Yet in Pakistan this valuable commodity is left underground for reasons that are obviously contrived to appease the formidable establishment, and it is obviously at the behest of the oil mafia, which at $15 billion sales a year is a very serious vested interest. They are very powerful, and are used to making or breaking governments. For them to devise a strategy to keep our coal underground is transparently simple.
The ‘studies’ to show that Thar coal is substandard have been peddled successfully throughout different governments’ tenures; till today we are using valuable natural gas to burn in our kitchens, while billions of dollars of fertiliser factories are lying closed for lack of gas. Not to mention the import of huge amounts of fertiliser imported for the farmers, without which the recently achieved self-sufficiency in wheat will be yet another dream achievement unused, much like our vaunted atomic bomb.
In Pakistan, government is being pushed into investing by the group led by Dr Samar Mubarakmand to release the huge funds (hundreds of millions of dollars) that would be required to research and then design a plant for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). While the good doctor is trying to convince the hard rocks of Islamabad, it should be pointed out that there is no underground gasification machinery available anywhere, off the shelf or otherwise.
The largest scam under serious consideration is the UCG plant. While in theory it is a very elegant plan, the reality is far more difficult. Which explains why UCG has not been put into production anywhere in the world.
Government of Pakistan should beware of such offers promising highly sophisticated concepts that are as yet unproven in the commercial arena. As explained earlier there is a desperate need for us to excavate and market the huge coal deposits in Thar. The transport systems will also have to be upgraded to handle the increased loads efficiently. The marketing will not be a problem, for there is a huge demand for coal in Pakistan as fuel. Our oil import bill is currently running at $15 billion annually, and we are still arguing about Thar coal. The real reason it would seem is the middleman in Pakistan who in insisting on his pound of flesh is destroying the project itself. That is a prime reason for genuine investors giving Pakistan a wide berth.
Government of Pakistan must now get its act together, and stop playing politics at the expense of the nation. They must appoint a senior member of the private sector to spearhead this important project. Otherwise we will have lost an immense opportunity to bring jobs and fuel to Pakistan. It also illustrates clearly that the politician of today is more concerned about his own health, and much less for that of his voters, the ones who voted him into power in the first place.
However, Thar coal is much larger than a magic trick, and we should get very serious about this project, as it can turn our country around. Our nuclear dream shall always remain a dream, as its use on the subcontinent will have disastrous and long lasting effects at its point of use, 500 years of radioactivity minimum. Yet the praise bring lavished on our nukes is far greater than the benefits being reaped by Pakistan. In fact, our expenditure on defence has risen dramatically after our becoming nuclear.
Any delay in the Thar project is anti-Pakistan, for which the punishment is well known.
The writer is a freelance columnist