MURREE: Locals facing roads blocked by heavy landslides, as well as damaged electricity poles, homes and crops and power suspensions, have blamed these issues on faults in the construction of the still incomplete Lower Topa-Kohala Road.

The prolonged delay in the completion of the Lower Topa-Kohala Road, whose construction began under the last PML-N government and continues today - has led to problems for more than 25,000 commuters and the local population of around 20,000 people for years.

A group of locals met with Murree Assistant Commissioner Zahid Hussain, who holds additional charge as the town administrator, and put forward issues arising from the excavation and use of substandard materials on the road, along with other problems.

Mr Hussain told Dawn that he held an inquiry in response to their complaints and visited the area with officials from the highway, Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), Nespak and other departments.

The locals have criticised the contractor of the Lower Topa-Kohala Road project for the use of substandard materials in the installation of electricity poles and the necessary excavation of mountains, Phagwarri village resident Shaukat Mehmood told Dawn.

He claimed contractors of various departments, including Wapda, used substandard materials in the installation of electricity poles that were damaged in the excavation for the road, which is why around 40 poles were uprooted in recently rainfall and storms.

He alleged that the contractor carried out extra excavation work to increase charges, which damaged agricultural land and orchards belonging to the local population around the road.

Mr Hussain said that he has visited the areas in question and formed a committee to investigate the problems and causes after a number of complaints from villagers from Aliot, Phagwarri and other areas.

He said landslides were caused by heavy rainfall, and the magnitude of the landslides on the under-construction road was greater than usual.

Following consultations with the deputy commissioner and other district administration and department officials, around 300,000 plants are being planted in areas affected by landslides to prevent them using a natural method.

He said the forest department has begun planting trees from its nurseries.

He said a sum of around Rs300 million is pending and has been promised to be released by the Punjab government, which will be used to build retaining walls to help prevent landslides.

He said the existing road in question is 18 feet to 20ft wide, and is now being expanded to 28 to 30ft, which is why excavation is necessary; this has led to landslides because the mountains in that area are made up of mud and clay more so than rocks and stone.

Mr Hussain this road caters to the needs of thousands of locals as well as thousands of commuters travelling between Azad Kashmir and other parts of Pakistan.

Many electricity poles were in the right-of-way and were to be installed on either side of the road to continue providing electricity to areas on both sides of the road, which is being carried out by Wapda, he said.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020