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GUJRAT: The historic Defence Road between Cantonment cities of Kharian and Jalalpur Jattan will be widened and rehabilitated with Rs300 million by the Punjab government, as the strategically important road has been in a dilapidated condition for long.

A bridge over the Chenab at Shahbaz Pur village in the outskirts of Jalalpur Jattan has also been approved to restore the link between the Gujrat and Sialkot sides of the old Jurneli (Defence) Road that is 90 feet wide.

The local administration and ruling party had been underlining execution of the proposed widening of the 32km long road as well as construction of the bridge, which according to them could bring about economic prosperity in the area.

District Coordination Officer (DCO) Liaquat Ali Chattha told Dawn the provincial government had approved widening and rehabilitation of the old Defence Road from Kharian city’s GT Road up to the proposed site of the Shahbaz Pur Bridge in Jalalpur Jattan. More than Rs300 million were being allocated for the project, he added.

Initially, the Punjab government had only approved the construction of a bridge over the Chenab for linking Gujrat to the international airport and the Sambrial dry port in Sialkot to facilitate expatriates as well as electric fan exporters from the area. However, due to pursuance by the local administration and local PML-N leaders, the government also approved rehabilitation of the Defence Road, he said. He added that both projects would be executed in the current fiscal year.

Construction of the bridge had been planned during the PML-Q government in Punjab. The then chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had allocated funds and the then president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf laid the foundation stone. Elahi had also established the University of Gujrat near Jalalpur Jattan city to link it with Sialkot through Shahbaz Pur village. The Defence Road and the proposed site for the bridge were located only a few kilometres away from the university’s Hafiz Hayat campus.

However, the PML-N government changed the location and design of the project. Now a single bridge providing two-way traffic had been designed, which would be 32 feet wide and the estimated cost of the project was Rs1.5 billion.

Previously, two bridges had been planned at another site located a few kilometres away from the current site and their estimate cost was a bit high.

PML-N leader Nawabzada Tahirul Mulk said locals pinned great hopes on both projects. The people of Gujrat, Jhelum, Mandi Bahauddin as well as Bhimbher and Mirpur districts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, with an overwhelming majority settled abroad, could utilise the Sialkot airport and dry port after the bridge was constructed.

He said out of the total estimated budget of Rs1.5 billion, Rs200 million had already been released for initiating the construction work on the bridge, which would hopefully be completed within the current fiscal year.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2014