Families pose for a photograph next to a cut out of a metro bus in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Dawn
Families pose for a photograph next to a cut out of a metro bus in Islamabad on Wednesday. — Dawn

RAWALPINDI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurates the much delayed mass transit metro bus service between Rawalpindi and Islamabad today (Thursday).

Though buntings and streamers festoon the elevated track of the bus in Rawalpindi, the ceremony is being held at the Convention Centre in Islamabad for security reasons.

One of the strangest sights of the preparations for the inauguration was the plastic plants and flowers that decorated the bus route from the Centaurus Mall to the Parliament House.

More than 4,000 big and small trees were cut down to make way for the metro bus in both the cities. Many green belts in Islamabad and several parks in Rawalpindi were devastated by the construction work.

At the very start of the huge project in March last year, the Supreme Court took notice of opposition Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed’s concern about the adverse impacts of the project in terms of environmental degradation. But the authorities assured that damage to the green character of Islamabad will be restored and sufficient funds will be available for the purpose.

That assurance will be on test in the coming months.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the driving force behind the nearly Rs45 billion project, and other government leaders will attend the launch of the bus service which is five months behind the schedule.

CM Sharif blamed the delay – and the 11 per cent escalation in the cost of the project – on the sit-ins the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tereek parties staged in front of the Parliament House in Islamabad last year.

Three main components of the project - the Moti Mehal bridge and Command and Control Centre at Saddar Rawalpindi and the Peshawar Mor Interchange in Islamabad – are yet unfinished.

Commissioner Rawalpindi Zahid Saeed, who oversaw execution of the work by a Turkish firm on the 23km-long bus track, about one-third of it overhead, and 24 bus stations, however, has insisted that “civil work is almost complete to run the bus service” and promised “the remaining five per cent minor work will be completed soon”.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government has temporarily accommodated the control and command centre of the first-ever mass transit system for the twin cities in the Rawalpindi Development Authority.

Both the City District Government Rawalpindi and the Capital Development Authority had made arrangements for the inaugural ceremony but the latter was chosen to hold it.

In Rawalpindi, workers of the ruling PML-N festooned the elevated bus route in violation of the Punjab Prohibition of Expressing Matters on Wall Act 2015, introduced by their own government in Punjab. Last month, the city administration had booked several people for doing the same.

Officials say the federal and Punjab governments almost equally shared the Rs44.8 billion the project cost. Of it the Rawalpindi section cost Rs19.17 billion and the Islamabad section Rs23.84 billion.

The total length of the Metro Bus Corridor is approximately 23km, including 8.6km elevated, 10km at grade and four kilometre trench.

Sixty-eight air conditioned buses for the service will be operated by the Turkish firm Albayrak selected through international competitive bidding, and transport an estimated 135,000 passengers daily.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2015

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