CHAKWAL: “Had this road been located in Lahore, or had there been a by-election in Chakwal, it would have been completed in the due period,” says Javed Ahmed. Mr Ahmed is a driver who runs a public service van from Chakwal to Rawalpindi.
Thousands of citizens from the Chakwal district and from towns in the Gujar Khan tehsil in the Rawalpindi district share his sentiments. They are frustrated by the delay in the Rs10 billion Mandra-Chakwal Road project. The 63.3 kilometre road is a major artery in the area, linking the Chakwal district and towns of the Gujar Khan tehsil with Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The project to make the road a dual carriageway was to completed in 2014, but remains far from finished.
Thousands of commuters use the road on a daily basis. It has remained a single carriageway since it was first built, and is known as a ‘road of death’ due to the heavy traffic and regular road accidents.
Residents of the area have been demanding the reconstruction of this major road for several years. Their demand was approved by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who inaugurated the project to make the road as a dual carriageway on Sep 6, 2012.
Despite claims that the project will be completed in Jan 2016, situation on the ground speaks otherwise
The road was supposed to be completed by September 2014, but was stalled for legal reasons until a stay order was lifted by the Supreme Court in July 2014. The project was then re-inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Jul 16, 2014. Mr Sharif also ordered the construction of a 14 kilometre bypass road, which was supposed to be completed at a cost of Rs1 billion.
The prime minister was informed that the work would be completed within 18 months (January 2016), and that the proposed width would be set as 6.1 metres. However, Mr Sharif asked the officials to complete the work within 12 months, and also increased the width to 7.3 metres.
The widening of the road from 6.1 to 7.3 metres has invited many hindrances, as scores of electric poles, trees, gas pipelines, telecommunication cables, markets, homes and graveyards came within the increased width. Due to the encroachments, the National Logistics Cell (NLC) (which contracted to execute the project) could not begin work properly.
Consequently, funds worth Rs940 million that were meant to be spent during the previous fiscal year were lapsed. They concerned authorities had failed to utilise the funds properly, since they neither cleared the arrears of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco), Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL), Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTCL) and the forest department, and also failed to acquire the private land on which markets were situated.
The revised PC-1 of the project is now awaiting approval from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), which did not take up the matter in its recent meeting held on Dec 30.
“The major problem is in Dhudial town, where the road could not be widened because the land located beside it is owned by Pakistan Railways. The railway authorities could not sell the land for a road. Moreover, the proposal to revive the abandoned Mandra-Chakwal railway track is also under consideration as the Supreme Court has ordered its revival,” an official told Dawn.
MNA Tahir Iqbal and Pakistan Public Works Department (PWD) executive engineer Mohammad Qanateer Ahmed have claimed that the work will be completed by June 2016. However, the situation on the ground shows that work may not even be completed by 2017, as the authorities have yet to acquire the private land not only for this road, but also for the proposed bypass road.
“There is no delay from our side. We are doing our work on those patches of the road where there are no obstacles. If the obstacles are removed we would complete the work by June 2016,” NLC project manager Col Usman Shafique said.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2016