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GUJRAT: The longstanding demand of the construction of a road on the railway track of the historical Victoria Bridge linking Malakwal tehsil of Mandi Bahauddin with Jhelum and Sargodha is not going to be accepted anytime soon as the federal government has recently shelved the project for the umpteenth time.

The residents of Malakwal and Pind Dadan Khan have been waiting for the construction of either a separate bridge or at least an asphalt road on the railway track of the Victoria Bridge over the River Jhelum for decades.

Political parties have only been exploiting the demand for construction of a bridge over river Jhelum and that bridge has been the focus of their election campaigns since 1970 but they did not take any concrete steps in this regard.

The PPP, during its last tenure in the government, had approved the asphalted layer along the railway track back in 2012, allocating a sum of Rs390 million for the project.

An amount of Rs290 million was released some two months before the end of the government’s tenure, contract was allotted and the contractor had also moved some machinery to the site. However, work could not start due to the general elections and the uplift projects were halted.

In the meantime, funds allocated for the project lapsed and the scheme was required to be revised in the current fiscal year’s budget but the new legislators of the PML-N from the area shelved the project as it was launched by their political rival, Nazar Muhammad Gondal, the former PPP minister.

PML-N MNA Nasir Iqbal Bosal who won NA-109 seat by defeating Mr Gondal in 2013 elections, had formally announced shelving the road project few weeks back in a public meeting at Malakwal.

He told the people that the road on the rail track was not a feasible scheme that’s why it had been stopped, however, he vowed to strive for approval of a separate concrete bridge on the river adjacent to the Victoria Bridge for traffic.

The British had constructed the Victoria Bridge over the River Jhelum near Chak Nizam some 80 years back and started a train service from Malakwal to Khushab, Pind Dadan Khan, Khewra and Gharibwal with eight trains plying on the route.

The railway track is the sole link of Malakwal with Pind Dadan Khan (Jhelum district) the people of the area have been demanding another road bridge for other vehicles.

Tariq Bhatti, a journalist from Malakwal, says that in case of non-availability of train, the people first reach the Victoria Bridge through motorcycle-rickshaws, vans and motorcycles and then cross the river by walking on a pedestrian track along the railway line.

He says that after crossing the bridge, they again hire motorcycle-rickshaws to reach Haranpur to further travel to Pind Dadan Khan on vans.

Mr Bhatti says the distance between Malakwal and Pind Dadan Khan is only 18km if a new bridge or an asphalted road is constructed on the same railway track. He says the other direct road link between both the towns is 85km long as one must go to Head Rasul to reach Pind Dadan Khan through the road.

The demand for construction of another bridge first surfaced in Ayub Khan’s rule, Ziaul Haq had got allocated a sum of Rs50 million, former PM Benazir Bhutto made a pledge to complete the project in 1996, Pervez Musharraf had laid the foundation stone of the bridge and approved Rs1.032 billion for it Pervez Elahi had also laid the foundation stone of the bridge in Malakwal in October 2007.

Former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had announced constructing a road on the railway track of Victoria Bridge in a public meeting at Malakwal some three years back.

In November 2012, the then President Asif Zardari had also inaugurated the project during his visit to Malakwal and announced construction of a road on the railway track with the sum of Rs390 million.

But all these promises and pledges, the project remained an unfufilled dream for the people of the area.

Waseem Ashraf Butt