ISLAMABAD: Travelling on Kashmir Highway, one can see the ‘abandoned’ metro bus tracks and stations along the route, raising questions about the fate of the Islamabad Metro Bus Project (IMBP) that was planned to be completed in November 2017.

The project, launched by the PML-N government, speaks volumes about the faulty planning of departments concerned. The delay is not only wearing out the standing structures but adding to its cost.

Almost 60pc of the project was completed one-and-a-half years ago when the last government’s tenure ended.

The contractors continued the work on their own and only stopped when the PTI government lost interest in the project. The remaining work now needs another Rs4 billion to be completed.

The PTI-led government released funds in October this year but the amount was insufficient to meet the demand and liabilities. Purchase of buses and setting up of an authority to run the service would take another six months to a year.

An amount of Rs4 billion is required to complete the remaining work

As a result of nonpayment of dues, the contractors [of four sections of the project] stopped work and their sub-contractors and labourers left the site of IMBP.

The NHA officials said at least Rs4 billion were required to complete the project but extra funds would be needed to purchase the buses.

The estimated/project cost of the 26km-long metro project (from Peshawar Mor to the new airport) was over Rs18 billion but it is believed that it will be completed at the cost of Rs14 billion, saving Rs4 billion. The project has eight stations - seven on the main route and one at the airport.

According to official figures, 90pc work on Package-1 (8km) of the project has been completed while Package-II (3.8km) is 85pc complete, and Package-III (8.3km) and Package-IV (5.4km) are almost complete.

“We have been seeing the completed structure of the metro bus project for more than a year and it is deteriorating due to the harsh weather,” said Asif Ali, a resident of G-13, who travels on Kashmir Highway daily.

Another commuter, Mehmood Ahmed, said his children often asked him as to when the metro project will be completed.

When contacted, Communication Secretary Jawwad Rafique Malik told Dawn that paucity of funds was the main cause of the delay in the project’s completion. He, however, said the government had assured them that it would soon provide the required funds.

Many attempts were made to contact NHA Chairman Sikandar Qayyum but he was reluctant to meet and referred the matter to another official of the authority.

An insider said there were some flaws in the project as no station was made in package-IV from the Motorway to the new airport, whereas under the project, one station has to be established after a distance of 1km.

He said so far no plan has been made to purchase buses and what subsidy should the government bear to run the project.

It has also been observed that due to shifting of Islamabad International Airport near to Fatehjang, the volume of traffic on Kashmir Highway has increased manifold and under this situation the metro service getting functional had become imperative to reduce traffic load on the main artery.

“We can complete the project (infrastructure work, track and stations) in four months if the government releases the required funds today,” IMBP project director Jawed Bajrani said.

He agreed that under the instruction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif the project was to be completed in Nov 2017 and said the deadline was not implementable as the project should have been completed in mid 2018.

He said 90pc of the project was completed and some equipment like elevators required to be imported from Spain to install into the metro stations.

The official, however, claimed that work that was completed has not been affected due to the delay.

“The work already completed has suffered no damage,” he added.

He said Rs4 billion were required to complete the project and the liabilities of NHA including payments to contractors had gone up to Rs2 billion. “The cost of the project will not escalate as we have saved almost Rs4 billion,” he added.

Asked why no station has been constructed in the fourth package from Motorway to the new airport, Mr Bajrani said population in that particular area was low which was why there was no need to build stations there.

Talking about buses, the official said buses were not his subject and he could not comment on it. Interestingly, the authorities concerned have not decided who will run the service.

The authorities concerned are said to be in a fix as to how the bus service will be run after the Capital Development Authority, National Highway Authority (NHA) and Punjab Masstransit Authority (PMTA) refused to ply the buses. Earlier, it was expected that PMTA would run the new service in the capital but when it refused, the CDA and NHA were asked to take the responsibility.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2019