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Fresh water row with Pak on the cards

By A Correspondent
February 02, 2010 20:23 IST

A fresh water row may erupt between India and Pakistan over a 1,200 MW Sawalkot hydro-power project on the Chenab river in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir with the J&K high court quashing a 2006 state cabinet decision shelving the Rs 7,436-crore project.

Pakistan has already been objecting to two other hydroelectric projects on Chenab at Baglihar and Salal. The Sawalkot project involves two units of 600 MW to be set up on the run-of-the-river scheme.

A single-judge bench of Justice J P Singh on Monday held as ultra vires the state government's decision to shelve the project on ground of alleged bungling in awarding contracts to a consortium comprising SPAS of Norway, Hindustan Construction Company of India and Ozaltin of Turkey.

In the 62-page order Justice Singh held the cabinet decision as ultra vires on the ground that the complainant was himself member of the cabinet.

The Sawalakot consortium was entrusted with designing, executing and completing the project at a cost of euro 763 million (around RS 4,918 crore). A formal contract was signed in presence of the then visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah on April 21, 2001, in New Delhi.

The consortium was duly approved by three successive cabinets of state  in April 2001, December 2005 and April 2006, as well as approved by the Power Development Corporation, the court order said.

Justice Singh observed the presence of the complainant minister in the cabinet sub-committee has genuinely raised eyebrows regarding his biased approach in discharging the functions.

'Under these circumstances a presumption arises that not only would the minister have influenced the mind of other members of the committee, but that he would have certainly done all he could possibly do to project his view point when there was none in the committee to speak for and on behalf of the petitioners,' the court order said.

The government counsel had pleaded that the project was shelved after they did not get funds from the Power Finance Corporation and the bidding for the project was not as per the Indian government's guidelines. The court held that the Indian government's guidelines did not apply to the project.

The consortium got a stay from the high court when the previous J&K government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2006 cancelled its contract and tried to float fresh global tenders for the project, downstream the 450 MW Baglihar hydel project and about 25 km upstream the 390 MW Salal hydroelectric power project.

A Correspondent in New Delhi