HYDERABAD: Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) Assistant Media Coordinator Irfan Junejo claimed on Sunday that SECMC has finally unearthed the first layer of coal from its open-pit coal mine in Thar Coal Block II, at a depth of 140 meters (460 feet) below the surface. “The mining firm’s machinery took out the first layer from an estimated 2.04 billion tons of coal resources in Thar Coal Block II after successfully dewatering the second acquirer, five months ahead of schedule,” said Junejo in the statement. SECMC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shamsuddin Shaikh was quoted as saying in the statement that the successful extraction of the first coal seam not only proves that Thar’s coal is exploitable but can produce “thousands of megawatts of cheap electricity for many decades.” The locals, however, have been protesting against the coal project saying that it will destroy the ecology and will forced indigenous communities to migrate from their native places. Reacting over the SECMC, Leela Ram, who leads the protest against mining, said that now when they have reached to the coal, communities are still waiting for justice. “Indigenous communities are still protesting for their legitimate rights but the company has no time to listen to them and they are destroying Thar for corporate interests instead of development,” Ram reacted over the SECMC’s statement. SECMC’s statement said that the project is a Joint Venture between Sindh Government and six private sponsors including Engro Energy, Thal Ltd, Habib Bank Ltd, Hubco, and two Chinese companies CMEC and SPIC. SECMC is the largest Public Private Partnership in Pakistan to explore and develop Pakistan’s first open pit coal mine with an annual output of 3.8 million tons. “The entire coal production will be supplied to Engro Powergen Thar Limited (EPTL) which is putting up a 2×330 MW mine-mouth power plant which is targeting to start power generation before the end of this year. Both these projects are part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and are being constructed in collaboration with Chinese Contractors,” reads statement. “This is the moment for which all Pakistanis had been waiting for the past 25 years, ever since coal was first discovered in Thar” said Shaikh. He thanked all the sponsors of the mega project, lenders, Federal Government and Sindh Government for providing whole-hearted support to make the dream of Thar a reality. Commenting on the performance of SECMC, Shaikh claimed that they have completed 16-million safe man-hours while removing 90 million cubic meters of overburden (earth), and that it was done 5 months ahead of the schedule. Sharing the future plans, Shaikh claimed that the company plans to rapidly expand the mine in Block-II to reach its optimum capacity to produce 5000 MWs by 2024 which will drastically reduce the coal price making Thar Block-II not only the cheapest block in Thar, but also in the country. He requested both the Federal and Provincial governments to pause the development of all other coal blocks in Thar till SECMC’s Block II reaches its optimum capacity which will allow Thar coal to provide the cheapest electricity to consumers. The statement further quoted Chief Operating Officer of SECMC Syed Abul Fazal Rizvi, who said that the coal in Thar is called lignite which is ideally suited for producing electricity. “With a cumulative thickness around 26 meters, there are enough coal reserves in Block-II to produce 5000 MW for the next 50 years,” the statement quoted Rizvi. He claimed that the full-fledged coal supply will start from 3rd quarter 2018 and the first electron will be generated from the EPTL power plant in December this year. He reiterated the commitment to continue serving the energy sector of Pakistan and specially the people of Thar who shall be the real beneficiary of this black gold.