Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last year opened the sluice gates and powered the turbines. These were to irrigate over 80,000 hectares of land and provide electricity to thousands of homes in the western Afghan province of Herat.
For India, one of the largest producers of hydro power, it had seemed like a simple undertaking – a 42-megawatt hydroelectric dam – with the remote location being the only challenge.
By January 2006, Indian engineers and workers reached the site – a wind-blown mountainous stretch on the Hari Rud river, filled with the rusting remnants of equipment.
The Indian workers brought with them the equipment needed to kick-start the project – excavators, concrete pumps, drilling machines. Seven Volvo tippers were purchased from Dubai and brought to Afghanistan via Iran.
Sources said that the firm had estimated that 30 lakh cubic metre of River Bed Material could be extracted till 10 kilometres upstream and downstream from the site. “In the end, we could dig up only about 11 lakh cubic metres. Just about one-third”
While blowing up mountains for rock quarry was perhaps the only solution to find enough construction material, it left work paralysed for one and half years – as India struggled to find a way to transport explosive material into Afghanistan.
“Iran refused to allow dynamite to be transported through their territory and asking Pakistan was out of the question,” he said.
Finally it was brought with the help of a local strongman from another Central Asian country.
Iran had been uneasy about the implications of the Salma dam project and the flow of water downstream, and even raised it as early as February 2005 with India.
Official records recount how work came to a “complete standstill” in the last two months of 2013-14, with pending bills of Rs 77 crore. This was mainly because of the delay of three years in giving approval to the revised cost.
For Indian engineers, 2014 was the turning point when it seemed that the project will finally see the light of the day. The filling of the reservoir in August 2015 led to a change in nomenclature in the project to “Afghanistan-India friendship dam”.
Even as expenditure increased exponentially, the deadlines continued to be pushed, ever further away. From December 2008, the second deadline was December 2010, followed by January 2015, July 2015 and finally, June 2016.
India’s final tally was Rs 1775.69 crore – an increase of over 400% from the original estimate.
As India moves to enhance its development aid portfolio from Africa to the Pacific Islands, lessons must be learnt from the Salma Dam project to avoid huge cost overruns and inordinate delays – a necessary step to make its development diplomacy an effective instrument.
With inputs from : The Wire
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