ISLAMABAD - Future of the multimillion rupees Provision of Safe Drinking Water (PSDW) project seems bleak after the government refused to allocate money for the only water quality testing facility available in country despite request by federal minister for science and technology.

The project was initiated under Khushhal Pakistan Programme in 2005 that included establishment of 24 water testing laboratories across the country costing Rs 1.4 billion.

Documents available with The Nation show that 21 water testing labs across the country have been established while the remaining three facilities would be completed this year for which the government has already extended the deadline to December. However, the zero allocation for the project in budget 2014-15 may not only result in rusting of the expensive machinery installed in the laboratories but will also affect 208 trained employees who will not be able to receive salaries next month due to want of money.

Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has also shown concern over non-allocation of funds for the project, expressing the fear that reports of water quality in country would not be acceptable to international organisations in case the labs are closed, as labs comply with international standards.

The documents reveal that Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal is being blamed for not recommending financial allocation for the project despite request by ministry of science and technology.

"It is disturbing to note that science and technology (S&T) sector has not been given its due priority by ministry of planning, development and reforms as far as the development budget is concerned," a letter addressed to Minister Ahsan Iqbal by Zahid Hamid, minister for science and technology, reads.

The letter reveals that Ahsan during a meeting held on May 28 had agreed that he would recommend allocation for the project, but official sources said the project was being rolled back because it was conceived by former military ruler Gen (Retd) Pervez Musharraf.

"We have got modern training on water quality in the US, UK, China, Japan and Korea consuming millions of rupees from public money. The entire staff is highly qualified in chemistry and now the government wants to send packing us," a water quality expert in PCRWR told The Nation. "We don't know as to why the project is being winded up? There is no certified agency in the country that can test water quality except for the 24 established laboratories. The machinery worth Rs 200 million will be corroded while lying idle," an official source confided.

The minister for science and technology has also requested planning commission for additional funds for new initiatives in line with the PML-N manifesto such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, fuel cell technology, health and quality assurance; however, the PC refused to dole out financial help. The laboratories have so far tested 30,000 samples of water quality discovering arsenic in drinking water in southern Punjab, besides helping water supply agencies across the country identify dangerous materials in drinking water.