THE recent abolition of the Sindh Coal Authority and its replacement with the Thar Coal Authority may have more to it than meets the eye. Though increasing power generation is the stated objective, the change is already stirring controversy. For one thing the composition of the body, which is dominated by federal government nominees, is creating ripples in the province. The voice being raised by relevant circles about the move being an effort to deny Sindh ownership of its black gold is not without weight. Coming from a government that has its political base in Sindh, the announcement has surprised many who are unable to voice their resentment publicly because of party affiliations. But those not hindered by such trappings are rightly pointing out the anomalies that seem to be the hallmark of the decision. A government that is known to have done little except boast about the supremacy of parliament should have thought twice, if not more, before doing away with a statutory body by way of a single piece of bureaucratic notification. Besides, the move also negates its stated stance on increased provincial autonomy.
Away from such political niceties, there are also some technical issues that deserve a clear policy direction from the government. Its sincerity about putting the Thar coal project on the fast track for increased power generation comes under serious questioning by the simple fact that its Jamshoro plant, based on Lakhra coal, is working at around 25 per cent of its capacity. Wapda finds it much less cost-effective than its earlier estimates and the private sector is interested in getting involved only if there is a guaranteed buyer for the power it would subsequently produce. As things stand today, coal extracted from the Lakhra mines — as well as that from Sonda near Thatta — is mostly sold to various industries instead of being used for power generation. If the government can first enhance power generation at Jamshoro to its optimum capacity, it will soothe many a nerve in Sindh. Otherwise, the debate will continue about Islamabad’s real intentions.