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Neelum-Jhelum Faces Another Breakdown

Neelum-Jhelum Faces Another Breakdown

The prime minister must take significant action beyond merely ordering an inquiry into the recent “technical fault” at the Neelum-Jehlum Hydropower Project (NJHP) and awaiting its results. Authorities are still grappling with the previous major breakdown in July 2022, when the project was closed due to “major cracks in the tail race tunnel” and only resumed power generation 13 months later in August-September 2023.

On May 1, 2024, the 969-megawatt NJHP ceased functioning again because two turbines were shut down due to “aggravation of problems in the head race tunnel.” This followed the shutdown of two other turbines in early April due to reduced pressure in the tunnel, less than a week after the project achieved full capacity.

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This unfortunate pattern has plagued the plant since its inception. Given the critical nature of the project, a separate investigation is needed to determine the extent of negligence, incompetence, and/or corruption involved. Those responsible must be held accountable, a step that has yet to be taken.

The project has already cost more than $5 billion, far exceeding the initial estimate of $40 million, and it continues to face technical issues that cause frequent shutdowns. Consequently, it’s not only the plant’s operation that requires scrutiny but also the timeliness and effectiveness of the PM’s ordered investigation and subsequent actions.

The PM’s government has struggled with legitimacy since the controversial election, making it crucial to fulfill promises of governance and economic performance made during the oath-taking. The public will be more inclined to move past previous grievances if a leader can genuinely alleviate their current hardships. The time to demonstrate this leadership is now.

The PM must ensure that the investigation into the NJHP shutdown thoroughly addresses the underlying issues, holds the responsible parties accountable, and prevents future occurrences. It’s unacceptable for a country with chronic power shortages, particularly one on the brink of default, to suffer from preventable issues like those at NJHP.

These breakdowns exacerbate the suffering of the people, already burdened by historic inflation, unemployment, and inflated utility bills. Such failures not only push the power system closer to collapse but also increase the likelihood of public unrest—a common feature in deteriorating societies throughout history.

Ultimately, the people bear the cost of these failures, and their patience is wearing thin. The prime minister must act decisively to address the problems at NJHP and restore public trust in the government’s ability to manage crucial infrastructure projects.