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Frequent power cable cuts inflict huge losses on govt

Frequent power cable cuts inflict huge losses on govt

Nov 07, 2017 - 11:06

JALALABAD/MEHTARLAM (Pajhwok): Power cables from Naghlu dam to eastern Nangarhar and Laghman provinces have been cut 57 times in the past two years, causing a huge loss, officials say.

The transmission lines were not repaired within six hours or even 12 days in some cases. The cables were cut by local insurgents, but the government also failed to keep its promises held out to residents.

When power cables were being extended from the Ozbin area of Sarobi district of Kabul to the Badpakh district of Laghman, residents allowed the installation of power transmission lines on condition that they would also be provided electricity.

However, despite the passage of many years, the promise is yet to be honored. Finally, the Badpakh people were obliged to join hands with the insurgents in severing power cables from time to time.

Residents of Nangarhar and Laghman, civil society activists and provincial council members fault the project route. They believe the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, relatively secure, would have been a better alternative.

However, Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat (DABS) officials say the cost of power transmission lines was paid by the World Bank (WB) and given the funding level, the current route was cost-effective.

According to reports, work on extending power lines over more than 96 kilometres -- from Naghlu Dam to Nangarhar -- was launched in 2010 at a cost of $23 million. The project was put into service in 2012.

At least 369 power pylons have been installed between Naghlu an Nangarhar, with six megawatts electricity consumed in Laghman and the remaining 36 megawatts in Nangarhar.

About 30,000 families benefit from electricity in Nangarhar and 15,000 in Laghman. The electricity transmitted through cables also benefits dozens of industrial units in the provinces.

Criticism of route selection

Residents of Nangarhar and Laghman, civil society activists and provincial council members are critical of the current route, calling it a ‘wrong path’. The cables are cut occasionally, they say.

They argue if the lines had been extended along the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway, then on one hand they would have been safe and on the other hand electricity workers could timely repair them in case of technical problems.

The Nangarhar provincial council member, Israrullah Murad, said choosing a wrong route for power transmission, not keeping promises, negligence on the part of local officials were reasons behind the persistent targeting of the lines.

A civil society activist, Dr. Asadullah Khaliz, told Pajhwok Afghan News that double standards were employed in transmission of power; because instead of transferring the utility via secured highway, the lines were deliberately carried through insecure areas.

Meanwhile, another civil society activist and analyst, Eng. Abasin Baheer, said from an engineering point of view shortest route should be chosen for roads and extension of power cables in order it caused little cost.

A representative from Laghman at the Youth Parliament, Hanifullah Pashai, said the wrong choice of transmitting the lines had caused issues to people rather than provided people with facilities.

Who cuts the power cables and why?

Though Nangarhar and Laghman residents say the cables are cut by insurgents and locals to mount pressure on the government, yet DABS officials deny any deal involving money.

The locals say the issue emerged when promises to them regarding the provision of electricity were not honored. A tribal elder from Badpakh district, Malak Mahboob Shah, said the power cables were cut most of the time in the Ozbin area of Sarobi.

The reason was the government’s failure to keep its promises, he said, adding there had been no deals in this regard. They only demanded electricity, nothing else, he explained.

Malak Niamatullah, a resident of Karoch village of the district, told Pajhwok the Taliban militants and local people cut the power cables. He hoped the problem would be resolved if the area was supplied electricity.

Malak Ziarat Gul, an inhabitant of the Shadgulian village of Badpakh, recalled residents of Badpakh and Sarobi had been assured of power supply when the lines were extended. However, he complained, the officials had broken their promises and hence the cutting of cables.

Tribal elders from Sarobi held a similar view. They said the power cables were cut only to pressure the government into supplying electricity to the areas.

Abdul Mobin Tulakzai, a tribal elder from Ozbin area, said locals and gunmen had the same demand for electricity supply. If the demand is met, the problem will be solved for sure.

Haji Sarajuddin, another tribal elder from Sarobi, said militants cut the cables and used it for a variety of purposes. Militants once stopped the extension of power lines from Naghlu to Nangarhar province six years ago.

But a government delegation that later visited the area promised residents all homes in Badpakh and Sarobi districts would be electrified on priority, he said.

However, three years on, the government had not yet implemented its commitment, Sarajuddin lamented. That was the reason why the damaged the power cables, he maintained.

Officials confirmed the power cables were cut due to non-implementation of the promises. The Laghman governor’s spokesman, Sarhadi Zwak, denied cash payments to militants.

Provincial power utility head Eng. Ikramullah Abid said there was no justification for payments to militants. He scotched rumours of paying the militants personally.

Nangarhar governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani and provincial DABS head also rejected any agreement with the rebels in terms of payments.

But an official, who wished to go unnamed, claimed big amounts of money were paid to the people and militants in the Badpakh district of Laghman and Ozbin area of Sarobi.

Sarobi-Badpakh route selection

DABS spokesman Wahidullah Tawhidi told Pajhwok Afghan News the Sarobi-Badpakh route was chosen because it was short and secure at that time, providing easy access to electricity.

He said local people in areas, where power cables were extended, had promised securing the facility, if supplied with electricity.

Demands of people & rebels

Officials say 70 percent of local people and militants’ demands have been met. Residents of Badpakh and Ozbin areas would be supplied electricity in April 2018, he promised.

Omaid Sabah, Nangarhar power utility head, said efforts had been accelerated to honour the promises made to the people. “Nearly 70 percent of work has done.

“Power pylons have been installed and other necessary equipment is ready for installation. Only 30 percent of work remains that would also be completed in a few months,” he added.

He estimated the government had suffered hundreds of millions of afghanis in losses due to power cable cuts. Sabah had no information about the exact amount of losses but said it was in billions of afghanis.

The government suffers a loss of four million afghanis each hour when the power supply is off. So far power cables had been snapped 57 times and repairing them took six hours to 12 days, he continued.

DABS spokesman Wahidullah Tawhidi also said efforts had been stepped up to build substations in the two districts and promises to the people would be kept in the near future.

Eng. Ikramullah Abid said 80 percent work on extending power cables to Badpakh had been completed but the establishment of a substation in Naghlu had been a little slow.

Despite promises by locals to secure the power cables, concerns persist that militants may cut them in quest of shelter and seeking favours in case the government does not change the route.

On the other hand, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they were not involved in cutting power cables. “The Afghan Local Police (ALP) personnel are behind such acts to achieve their goals,” he alleged.

He added the Taliban had been in contact with DABS and helped the power utility whenever a problem occurred in remote areas of the country.

“Based on our information, power cables were twice cut during the conflict. Each time, we informed the officials concerned to come and repair the cables,” he claimed.