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Work on mega road projects in Chakwal hits snags

April 22, 2015


Electricity poles and trees are hurdles to continuation of work on various roads in Chakwal. — Dawn
Electricity poles and trees are hurdles to continuation of work on various roads in Chakwal. — Dawn

CHAKWAL: When on September 6, 2012, the then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf laid the foundation of the Mandra-Chakwal Road (63.25km) and Chakwal-Sohawa Road (70km), the people of the area took a sigh of relief as both the main arteries needed reconstruction on an urgent basis.

The mega project of making these two roads “dual carriageways” was to be completed within two years at a cost of over Rs8 billion.

The contract was hastily awarded to the National Logistics Cell (NLC) which started work with full vigour. Within a few days, the sides of the Mandra-Chakwal Road were dug by three to four feet deep. But as the contracts were awarded in violation of the rules and regulations of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, the work was stalled by a stay order issued by the Islamabad High Court.

Officials attribute delay in completing work to PM Nawaz Sharif’s direction to increase width of one of the roads

The stay order was vacated in 2014 and on July 16, 2014, the project attracted another prime minister only to re-launch it. A lavish inaugural ceremony was held near the Dhudial town.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was briefed that work on the two roads would be completed in 18 months while the width of each road would be 6.1 metre. But the prime minister directed the officials concerned to complete the work in 12 months. He also ordered to increase the 6.1 metre width to 7.3 metre. The residents of the area expressed happiness over the prime minister’s announcement.

But nobody except the concerned officials thought about the consequences of the prime minister’s abrupt decision. The commuters continue suffering on the rundown Mandra-Chakwal Road where traffic accidents have also become common.

“All the technical issues had been fixed keeping in view the width of the 6.1 metre. Arrangements had also been made to remove trees and shift the installations of Iesco, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) and PTCL but when the width was increased from 6.1 metre to 7.3, it attracted more encroachments which have now become a major hurdle in the execution of the project,” said an official on the request of anonymity.

According to officials, the project, which according to the direction of the prime minister, was to be finished by July 2015, is unlikely to be completed even by July 2016 as the work has not been properly started yet.

Though one can see bulldozers and tractors of the NLC moving slowly on some portions of the road, there is little progress. “The progress of work has been marred by the encroachments which are yet to be removed. The work which should have been completed by 31.3 per cent is only 19% now,” project manager Colonel Usman Shafique of the NLC told Dawn. He said the road had been divided into many stretches and most of which had not been touched due to the encroachments.

“There are electricity polls, optical fibres, gas pipes, trees, graveyards, houses and markets in the way of the road. The work cannot be sped up unless these hurdles are cleared.”

There are bustling markets in the towns of Dhudial, Jatli and Syed Kasran but the Public Works Department has not acquired land from these towns. A flyover is also to be built at a railway crossing in Murid village near Mandra but the Pakistan Railway has not yet issued a no-objection certificate for the flyover.

“We have imported machinery for this project. There is no delay from our side as we are here to execute the work. It’s the duty of different public departments to give us a smooth passage,” added Colonel Shafique.

To save Chakwal from the influx of heavy traffic, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also approved a 14.5km-long bypass but its tentative cost of Rs1 billion is also yet to be approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec). Besides, work on the Chakwal-Sohawa Road has also not been started.

On the other hand, the public departments concerned are blaming each other for the delay. “We have paid the desired amount to the concerned departments but they have not started their work,” said PWD executive engineer Mohammad Qanateer Ahmed. “Many letters have been written to the concerned departments but no action has been taken,” he adds.

When contacted, officials of the forest department, SNGPL, PTCL and Iesco claimed that they were trying their best to complete their work as soon as possible.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2015

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