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MURREE: Much needed renovation work on the Rawalpindi-Murree-Kohala (RMK) Road, which sustained widespread damage due to heavy rainfall a few months ago, has yet not been carried out.

According to sources, the provincial government earmarked Rs1.44 billion on directives from the prime minister a year ago for the reconstruction of the Murree-Kohala portion of the road.

The provincial highway department circle also sought expressions of interest from the relevant firms and the estimated cost was reduced to Rs1.14 billion.

Sources said four prominent firms, including the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and the National Logistic Cell (NLC), participated in the pre-bidding process.

The project was formally discussed by officials from the highway department and representatives from the various companies, but none of them were ready to take on the project.

The representatives of the companies told the authorities that funds allocated to the project were insufficient, and the estimated cost would be higher due to the road’s condition.

A source said the firms were reluctant to take on the project due to widespread damage to road and landsliding that occurred after heavy rainfall a few months ago.

The RMK was handed over to National Highways, after the 1978 federalisation process, but the Punjab government kept the Right of Way (ROW) in its custody, he added.

In 1978, the government decided to federalise five interprovincial roads – named National Highways – and created the National Highway Board to oversee the development and maintenance of these roads by the provincial highway departments.

The RMK was one of these roads, and has been a bone of contention between the provincial administration and the National Highway Authority (NHA) for several years.

Sources said the NHA planned to execute the road’s renovation process, but was unable to do so due to resistance from the provincial government.

The NHA was then asked by the provincial authorities to resume renovation work without ROW conditions, but said it would not be able to do so without ROW.

Last year, the RMK was handed back to the provincial government following the prime minister’s intervention.

An official from the provincial highway department admitted that funds allocated to the road had lapsed by the end of the last fiscal year, after no firm was willing to take on the project.

He said the provincial government had reallocated the funds in the current fiscal year for the renovation of the road with amendment, and the department would seek expressions of interest from the relevant firms.

NHA public relations officer Kashif Zaman said the total length of the highway is 90 kilometres, of which 54 kilometres of the Islamabad-Murree Expressway has already been constructed by the authority.

He said the NHA demanded the ROW from the provincial government according to the authority’s standards, and unless it was given the ROW the responsibility to construct the remaining 36 kilometres from Murree to Kohala would not be the authority’s.

Executive engineer Syed Riaz Hussain did not deny that four companies did not show an interest in carrying out work due to low rates, but added that rates are revised every year.

He added that the funds have not lapsed because they were not released by the government when expressions of interest were initially sought.

He said the government has now released funding and fresh expressions of interest would be sought.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2016