Thar Coal Project: a moot point

If the government and the company are really willing to heal the wounds of deprived Tharis they should act impartially

Tharparkar has its own identity other than the famous identity associated with the Thar Coal Project which has been enticing explorers’ interest. Its beauty and mysticism has been the historical recognition of this land. When in a cloudy serene day, a peacock dances over a sand dune or when someone sees the long herds of camels travelling along the roadside or it be the long-established rural living style of Tharis, every scene of Thar makes onlooker ‘lollapalooza’.

Living in cone shaped huts (Chounra) and depending on brackish water and wild plants have been the way of survival for local Tharis. These innocent Tharis don’t even know that their district is the poorest among 120 districts of Pakistan. Government has been turning a blind eye over the issues related to the development of Thar but the little bit of backing by NGOs has kept these restless souls breathing.

Thar Coal Project is the major breakthrough in terms of development of this region but the controversies surrounding this project have shattered the hope of locals. Whether it is the displacement of natives to establish Gorano reservoir or it be the provision of jobs for the people of Tharparkar in project related activities or it be harming the peaceful environment of Thar. Yet, it’s hard to settle on that what sort of development Thar has achieved so far from this mega project.

The excavation of massive coal possessions that is hidden under the sand is going on at one end while on other, environment amicable life in Thar is about to come to an end. Is this mega coal fired power station going to meet Pakistan’s energy need in coming days or not is perhaps a valid question but there is a serious question of Tharis that how they will be entitled to get maximum benefits from this project in future as they are not even being recruited in project related jobs presently?

A letter written by Tharparkar district council chairman to CM Sindh reveals that among the recruited 60 people under the Khushaal Thar Programme, no one belongs to Tharparkar.

Thar is home of poverty stricken masses who have been dwelling in such unsympathetic conditions for centuries and this time they are being trapped through this one sided project which is going to make them displace only. More than 20% of Thar’s total population lives within proposed project intervention and for the sake of running project related activities smoothly the authorities have decided to relocate people living in villages which come in contact with coal development area.

“He who never survived in such circumstances could never feel the pain of Tharis. In coming years we will be facing extreme environmental and financial problems because this excavation of coal deposits will never bring prosperity in real sense to this region until and unless people of Thar could have been taken onboard regarding provision of their due share of development from this project” says Prakash, a local engineer from Mithhi.

A large number of locals are fighting to halt this long scale project because of having moot concerns regarding development. They are not ready to accept it anyway. However, SECMC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company) went completely fail to clear up the reservations of local landowners so far. The company has been trying to portray one side of the project while the hidden side possess the real story that is disheartening.

Living in cone shaped huts (Chounra) and depending on brackish water and wild plants have been the way of survival for local Tharis. These innocent Tharis don’t even know that their district is the poorest among 120 districts of Pakistan

According to SECMC figures, Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) has begun in Thar which is about to bring a massive revolution in the area and in the lives of locals but in reality there seems no deep rooted solution to the miseries of Tharis who are in quagmire since Indo-Pak partition.

The official website of SECMC states that the company is carrying CSR along the project in health, education and livelihood sectors but no one could observe the CSR related programmes in proposed development area except the paid media teams which visit the intervention on the invitation of SECMC officials.

The lollypop of development was previously given to the people of Badin district when the large deposits of oil and gas were discovered from the region but today the unsatisfying life standard of locals is witnessed of the change which have brought by the oil and gas exploring companies to the lives of people of this land.

If the government and the company are really willing to heal the wounds of deprived Tharis, they act impartially. If they are taking maximum benefits from this project, they must address the worries of locals on priority basis and invest a lion’s share on the development of Thar.

The writer is a freelancer based in Badin and can be reached at abbaskhaskheli110@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.