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Mining firm comes out with `facts` to end protests against Thar reservoir

By Hanif Samoon 2016-12-05
MITHI: Amid growing unrest in Tharparkar over the execution of a plan to convert a huge piece of land in Islamkot to a disposal site for saline mine water, the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company has again urged certain stakeholders and the media not to be carried away by the propaganda against the `scheme beneficial not only to Tharis but the entire province, as well as the country`.

While a large number of activists belonging to various social organisations and political parties/groups including the Sindh National Front (SNF) took out a rally and held a sit-in at Kashmir Chowk here on Sunday as part of the ongoing campaign against the mine water reservoir, representatives of the company told the media that facts about the scheme were being distorted by vested interests and the issue was also being blown out of proportion by a section of the media.

Irshad Kumbhar, Peerano Chandio, Imran Dars and others who led the rally and sit-in told the participants that they would not allow the mining companyand provincial government to convert around 2,700 acres of land of Gorano village, situated near Islamkot town, to a disposal site for `hazardous` effluents to be taken out from mines.

They said that the people of Thar had strong reservations over the execution of the plan being opposed by the people of Thar in general and the around 15,000 residents of a dozen villages, believed to be directly affected, in particular.

They severely criticised the provincial government and Pakistan Peoples Party lawmakers from the area for allowing the mining company to use the same lands for the reservoir. `If the reservoir is laid at this site, the hazardous water to be disposed of into it will cause widespread devastation in more than 75 per cent of the Thar region,` they claimed, and urged the company and provincial government to hold sessions with representatives of the vulnerable population and experts of the relevant field to assess the possible impact. They said they strongly believed that the scheme would badly affect the ecology of the whole region.

In Chhachbro taluka, a similarprotest was held outside the local press club.

Participants in the demonstration, organised by the Thar Sujag Saath and attended by activists of various social organisations, criticised the company for not paying heed to the local population`s repeated call to shift the site of the reservoir from Gorano village.

Mumtaz Ali Rahimoon, Ramesh Tara, Goutam Rathi, Ali Nawaz Bajeer and others, speaking to the protesters, said that Tharis were being forced to agree on the proposed site. Expressing solidarity with the vulnerable population, they vowed to support them till the company and provincial government were made to shift the site to any alternative place proposed by representatives of the local people.

They urged the lawmakers from Thar to come to the rescue of their voters over the issue. Meanwhile, groups of people belonging to the vulnerable villages continued their protest for 45th consecutive day at a camp set up outside the Islamkot press club.

Speaking to the media, their leaders Advocate Leela Ram, Dost Ali Hajam and others told newsmen on Sunday that they had already rejected all argu-ments by the company and provincial government in favour of the site selected for the reservoir.

They said that thousands of people would have to leave their villages and ancestral lands to escape the adverse effects of the toxic chemicals and gases on public health, animals and the fertile lands close to the 2,700-acre reservoir.

They explained that they were not at all opposed the Thar coal project but had reservations only over the site of the reservoir for hazardous mine ef fluents.Rejecting the company claim, supported by the provincial government, that none of the alternative sites proposed by representatives of Gorani village residents was suitable for the reservoir, they said that the authorities concerned and the company should at least keep in mind the commitments they had made with the local people before starting the work on the reservoir.

`Resistance based on propaganda` A team of executives representing the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company appeared before media personnel inMithi on Sunday to urge them not to blow the issue out of proportion as was reflected in the coverage of protests against the reservoir in the print and electronic media over the past few weeks.

Mohsin Babar, Haris Siddiqui and others said that it was absolutely wrong that the reservoir would be spread over an area of 2,700 acres. `In fact, the covered area of the reservoir will be just 15 acres,` they said, adding that around 35 cusses of saline water drawn out from mines would be syphoned daily into the reservoir.

Secondly, they said, the mine water would not be toxic or hazardous. Its evaporation would not adversely affect a single human being or animal.

`Contrary to the apprehensions being expressed by the villagers that it would turn their lands barren, the water will be very much useful for irrigation purposes,` they claimed.

Regarding the alternative sites proposed for the reservoir, the executives said that they appeared to be parts of an extensive Ramsar site where digging, construction or any other such activity was prohibited under the relevant conventions.They urged local media personnel to verify facts before reporting the issue.

`You must keep in mind that the Thar coal project is going to be an important part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,` they said.

Although the opposition to the site was unjustifiable, the company was ready to hold negotiations with the protesting villagers and address their genuine grievances, said Mr Babar, who introduced himself as the spokesman for the company.

in reply to a question, he said some anti-Thar elements were out to sabotage the coal project but the company and provincial government were fully aware of their designs. Acceding to a genuine demand made by the people of certain areas, three big reverse osmosis (RO) plants plants were being installed to provide drinking water to them, he said.

Expressing their confidence that the protesting villagers would be able to realise facts to stop resisting the reservoir scheme, the executives said their company was planning holding of workshops in dif ferent parts of Thar to sensitise them about the mega project and its merits.