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SC given new date and new surprises

Updated Sep 04, 2013 07:40am

ISLAMABAD, Sept 3: Already late by nearly two years, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has informed the Supreme Court (SC) that completion of the new airport being built for the federal capital at Fatehjang could take another 18 months.

“Realistically speaking, the airport will not be ready before April 2015,” said the CAA’s lawyer Afnan Kundi when the court asked him on Tuesday to put a date when the New Benazir Bhutto International Airport would be operational for aircraft to land and take off from it.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, is hearing a private petition that the delay had already pushed the original cost of Rs35 billion of the new airport to Rs73 billion, and may escalate further as time passes.

Petitioner Asaf Fasihuudin Vardag, a lawyer, wants the Supreme Court to direct the authorities to appoint “an eligible officer as the project manager” in place of the incumbent CAA Director-General Air Marshal (retired) Khalid Chaudhry.

Advocate Iftikhar Gillani, representing DG CAA Khalid Chaudhry, caused a stir when he told the court that before his client was appointed as chief coordinator of the big project on July 12, 2012, some 9,800 flights had used Pakistan airspace to reach Afghanistan but only 146 of them were billed for the passage. CAA lost billions as a result of the inexplicable charity.

An informed source confided to Dawn later that a letter went from the Aviation Wing of the Cabinet Division to the director-general Federal Investigation Agency on August 20 this year containing CAA’s request for “a thorough, multi-dimensional probe to fix criminal responsibility” and recover the embezzled billions.

Assisted by CAA’s Project Director Mohammad Musharraf Khan and Director Legal Obaidur Rehman Abbasi, CAA counsel Kundi told the court that the CAA was building the airport from its own resources and had so far paid Rs32 billion to different contractors. Besides, payment of Rs1 billion to clear the running bills was pending.

However, the project’s management consultants expect the cost to escalate to Rs83 billion.

Chief Justice Chaudhry observed that the exorbitant escalation was the result of the delay in executing the project in time, and said the court was only interested to ensure that the venture was free of corruption.

On the other hand, Kundi claimed that “non-cooperation” of both the federal and the provincial governments held up the CAA as yet from starting work on constructing the access road, located some 30km southwest of Islamabad.

Similarly, the Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (Iesco) could not start work on a 132 KV Gas Insulated Switchgear-type grid station and the transmission line; nor work could begin on bringing water to the work site.Shahpur Dam, the nearest source from where water can be supplied to the new airport site, is 17km away for which pipeline has to be laid, the counsel said.

The CAA also blamed Project Management Consultant Louise Berger for failing to submit even a single design validation report, violating the contract agreement.

Advocate Uzair Bhindari, representing the firm, however, claimed that work started at the site of the new airport without final design. Designs came piecemeal at different stages of the construction. Still, 63 per cent work had been completed, he added, accusing the CAA for the delay.

Additional Attorney General Shahkhawar informed the court about a July 10 government decision to refer a case to the FIA to probe into the cost escalation and delay in the timely completion of the new airport project.

The report compiled by Lt-Gen (retired) Shahid Niaz, Member Planning Commission, as head of a five-member inquiry committee, that identified a number of reasons for the delay has been provided to FIA investigating officer Aurengzeb Khan, the law officer said.

Established by the CAA Board on April 16, 2012, the Shahid Niaz inquiry committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013, highlighting different reasons for the delay, including the tendency of taking arbitrary decisions in awarding contracts and execution of work. The report was also provided to the Supreme Court bench on July 9.

However, at Tuesday’s proceedings, the bench was certainly not amused by the report.

Indeed, it observed that the entire exercise was done to frustrate the bench’s proceedings. The court then summoned Attorney General Muneer A. Malik to assist it and adjourned the matter for Wednesday.