RAWALPINDI, July 10: About four years after scrapping it, the Punjab government has decided to re-launch the multi-billion Nullah Leh expressway project amid claims that the decision was politically motivated before the elections year.
Top officials, including the commissioner, the district coordination officer Rawalpindi and the director general of Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) on Tuesday rushed to Lahore for briefing the planning and development department authorities about the feasibility of the Leh Expressway and Flood Control Channel, a project launched by former President Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf in 2007 and shelved by the PML-N provincial government in 2008. However, the meeting was postponed to Saturday.
The mega project had earlier been approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), a federal government department tasked with evaluating and approving multi-billion projects. It may be noted that provinces cannot approve any project if its cost exceeds the mark of Rs5 billion.
Dawn learnt that the Punjab government had already been informed that the project cost had increased to Rs24 billion from the Rs17 billion in 2007.
“The project will now cost Rs24 billion keeping in view the whopping increase in prices of construction materials. However, we are prepared to undertake it,” said Director General RDA Chaudhary Naseer Ahmed.
According to officials, since the Leh expressway project had been shelved by the Punjab government in 2008, its re-launching would need fresh approval from the federal government.
However, PML-N lawmaker Shakil Awan argued that since the multi-billion project would be completed in phases, for which allocations would be made yearly, there was no need to get approval of the federal government.
“The Punjab government will not exceed the allocation of Rs5 billion each year,” he said, adding only a section of the project would be undertaken at a time.
When asked how was it possible to continue the project next year when political parties would be preparing for the general elections, the MNA asserted that if his party won the elections the project would be continued.
On the other hand, political observers are of the view that the timing of launching the project had no rationale. They feared that the project would not be completed in such a short time with meager allocations and would result in the wastage of public money and resources.
President Awami Muslim League (AML) Sheikh Rashid, on whose request the mega project was initiated for resolving the traffic issue in Rawalpindi, told Dawn that the PML-N was going to re-launch the project as a face saving because the residents were angry over the scrapping of the project.
“The chief minister wants to befool the residents of NA-55 by fake launching of the project. Everybody knows that the completion of the mega project would not be possible in months. Why they (PML-N members) had been sleeping over the project for the last four years?” the former federal minister remarked.
However, DCO Saqib Zaffar, who is also member of the Leh Expressway Project Committee, insisted that timely work could complete the project as evident from the Chandni Chowk flyover that was put in place in just 119 days.