LAHORE - Wapda Chairman Zafar Mahmood yesterday resigned from his office, leaving a spate of speculations about the likely causes behind the sudden move.

Though a spokesman for Wapda said his boss took the decision for personal reasons, informed sources told The Nation that the veteran bureaucrat had been made a scapegoat by the government to please the PPP and win its support in the present situation when the Opposition is getting united to dislodge the over three-year-old PML-N-led coalition.

The sources claimed the Wapda chief had been fired about 10 days ago, but the decision was not immediately made public for political expediency.

It is said that Mehmood’s series of articles in support of the controversial Kalabagh Dam were not digested by the PPP and the ANP, the two parties the government is trying to pull out of the Opposition camp.

Slow pace of work on the construction of Tarbela 4 Extension (T4) and Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project are stated to be other reasons on the basis of which the annoyed prime minister is reported to have asked Zafar to get aside.

Both these projects of combined capacity of around 2,400MW are important for the ruling party which is committed to end loadshedding before next elections in 2018. However, now they are not likely to be completed as per schedule.

Zafar had written a series of columns in The Nation in favour of the construction of KBD. After Shamsul Mulk, he was the second Wapda chairman who bluntly supported building of 3,600MW hydel project in Kalabagh in district Mianwali despite opposition of major political parties from KP and Sindh.

Zafar faced severe criticism from PPP lawmaker Nafisa Shah in the last month’s meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Planning and Development when she reportedly took up the matter. “It is regretful that the Wapda chairman is writing articles in favour of the construction of controversial Kalabagh Dam,” she had said. “You are a public servant and the sitting Wapda chairman, so you cannot write on the issue,” she had said. But Zafar had replied that he was bringing truth forward and no one could stop him from writing columns.

Wapda had removed the dam from its official website during PPP’s tenure. Sindh, KP and Balochistan’s provincial assemblies had then also adopted the resolutions against construction of the dam.

Some other officials in background discussions claimed the prime minister sought Mahmood’s resignation after the government was told about the slow pace of work on T4 and NJ projects.

“Prime Minister was annoyed when the chairman briefed about the delay in timely completion of Terebela 4 and Neelum-Jhelum projects,” an official told The Nation, seeking anonymity.

The completion of the 1,410MW Tarbela (4th Extension) hydropower project and 969MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project is set to miss deadline of mid 2017 and could create more troubles for the PML-N government to overcome loadshedding and meet its election promise of smooth power supplies before the next elections in 2018. The government has planned to add some 10,000MW to the energy basket next year for which the 2,400MW from hydel component are considered vital.

Under an accelerated plan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had desired to accomplish the project of T4 about eight months before the actual deadline of March, 2018. There are reports that with the next general elections in mind, the government had also paid $51 million additional cost to Chinese contractors for completion of T4 eight months before the prescribed schedule. Similarly, the first unit of the NJ project was scheduled to come online by mid-2017, followed by three more units by the end of the year, but the project authorities informed the prime minister that the force activities regarding reinforced concrete lining, grouting and drain repairs may take additional time of four to five months.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed retired bureaucrat Zafar Mahmood as Wapda chairman on April 2014. Earlier, he was serving as the Punjab Public Service Commission chairman. He had served on key government posts for more than 38 years. The government is likely to appoint new chairman next week.