Thar coal – hope or despair [2 of 3]

Having passed by many abandoned sites which looked like ghost towns, reminiscent of Wild West where such crumbling structures have turned into a tourist attraction, at long last, a rigging operation was in our sight. We got down there. It was the site, I was told where coal is not mined or extracted, but plants wood rather be installed on deposits to produce gas.




by Hafeez R.M.


Huge coal reserves were discovered some twenty years ago in Thar Desert, a desolate area where sand is piled up into huge wind blown dunes, rising sometimes to 152 m above the ground level. There are proven reserves of 175 billion tons of coal.

A number of factors could be cited for limited progress in the past to use this enormous quantity of coal.

    1. Lack of necessary infrastructure (roads, water, life support systems, community services and communication network) to support project activity.
    2. Inconsistent government policy.
    3. Inaccessibility to national grid.
    4. Political uncertainty.
    5. Security concerns – Law and order situation.
    6. Tariff issues originating from uncertainties surrounding price instability of the capital equipment and other input costs as well as inherent risks associated with a typical coal mining and power generation venture.
    7. Mining is a provincial subject. Thus hostage to vested interests. Coordination with Federal and Provincial Government departments and ministries.
    8. Role of oil companies and cartels in down-playing use of coal for power generation.

The desert contains the largest coal reserves discovered to date, covering an area of 10,000 sq. km. This has been divided in eight blocks which have been allocated to various private companies from Pakistan, Australia, UAE and UK.

The site, I visited, was handed over to Dr. Mubarkund. It had a total area of just 64 sq. km.


The coal mines are near Islamkot, a fast developing town in the District Tharparkar, Sindh, Pakistan. The area is accessible by a 360 km metalled from Karachi upto Islamkot via Badin or by a 410 km road via Hyderabad. Public buses ply on the latter route. Besides a road network has been developed which connects all the major towns with Thar Coalfield. The rail link is from Hyderabad to Naukot, which is about 100 kilometers from coal mines.

The terrain is sandy and rough with sand dunes forming the topography. The climate is essentially that of an aid to semi arid region with scorching hot summers and relatively cold winters.


Mine and power plants would be developed side by side. Salient features are:

    • The production capacity of Coal mine will be 22.5 million tons per annum to support 4,000 MW of powergeneration capacity for 70 years
    • Phase 1 will be development of a 6.5 million tons Coal mine in parallel with 1,200 MW Power Plant
    • Thar coal development include supply of water, effluent disposal,power transmission lines by and railway link.
    • In addition, it would involve construction of roads, supply of potable water.


Thar Mining & Power Generation Phase 1 would cost US$ 4 billion of which US $1.2 billion would be contributed by way of equity.  The remaining US$ 2.8 billion would be borrowed from local and foreign banks.

Thar coal development include supply of water, effluent disposal,power transmission lines by and railway link. The estimated cost of these projects would  Rs148 billion or US$ 1.74 billion equivalent.


Detailed study has been completed. Financial close is expected by December 2012. If all goes well, coal mining and power generating plant would be operative by December 2016.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company’s Chief Executive Officer Khalid Mansoor has warned that delay in provision of infrastructure like water and transmission lines might jeopardise the $ 4 billion project designed to produce 1,200-MW by 2015 in the first phase at Thar.

Thar coal development include supply of water by 2015, effluent disposal by 2012, power transmission lines by 2015 and railway link by 2015.


There has been significant progress as shown below:

  1. A joint venture has been formed between the Sindh Government and Engro Powergen Ltd under the name and style of “The Sindh Engro Coal Mining company Limited” to mine coal from Thar Block II and to put a Power plant of 600-1000 MW capacity.
  2. Dr. Samar Mubarkand has started drilling for Underground Coal Gasification Project and hope to start burn-test in March 2011 over for a small plant of 5 MW which would later be expanded to 100MW.
  3. The Kingho Group of China has expressed its keen interest to Invest in Thar Coal project.This is the largest private group in the country. It has manpower of 64,000 and possesses 22 billion tonnes of reservoirs of coal and 800 million tonnes of iron ore.
  4. Humayun Khan Sikandari, Board of Investment, has stated that Thar coal field has been declared Spcial Economic Zone, and the investor will enjoy Corporate Income Tax Holiday of 5 years and 10 years for Developers of the Zone.
  5. A sum of Rs.315 million has been released to Civil Aviation Authority for construction of an airstrip in Islamkot, Tharparkar district, aimed at facilitating foreign investors to reach Thar coalfields by air.
  6. A high-powered institution, Thar Coal & Energy Board, has been formed for one-window operation.
  7. Power supply arrangements from high tension electricity lines of HESCO to colony site have been made.
  8. Design of pre-fabricated colony has been completed, layout plan of camp is prepared and contract has been awarded and construction work is in progress.

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