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Taking into confidence: Public consultation on Bunji power project underway

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)held a public consultation in Gilgit to assess the environmental impact of the proposed Bunji hydropower project.

A report prepared by the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) on the environmental impact of the project was discussed in the meeting held on Wednesday. It was attended by people from Bunji, Rundu, representatives of Wapda and current and former regional policymakers, including Aftab Haider, Muhammad Naseer and Captain Sikandar.

“It was a fruitful discussion and the communities shared their views and concerns,” said EPA Director Shehzad Hasan Shigri. “The project is one of the most viable projects for a country facing a power crisis,” he claimed.

The proposed 7,100 megawatt power project is located on the Indus River near Gilgit.

Communities raised reservations over the name of the project and suggested renaming it as Rundu-Bunji hydropower project. “The project is affecting more people from the Rundu area and therefore it should be renamed according to the peoples’ wishes,” said former lawmaker Captain Sikandar, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

The Bunji power project, also known as Bunji Dam, is expected to be completed in six years at an estimated cost of Rs12 billion. According to the survey, the lower part of the Shangus area is likely to submerge but the displacements will be far less compared to that feared for Diamer-Bhasha.

Residents fear the dam will affect their livelihood by submerging the pastures and mountains, which are rich in gemstones. They also demanded the survey be re-conducted, claiming the existing one does not reflect everything at stake. The Rundu and Bunji communities also asked for devising a proper mechanism to compensate for losses and rehabilitation.

People were asked to submit their reservations within two months so that the project could be finalised in time. Participants at the consultation also suggested the government to set up a Gilgit-Baltistan ‘Energy Farm’ to capitalise on the region’s resources.

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