RAWALPINDI: The fate of the Rawalpindi Ring Road (R3) project hangs in the balance as the Punjab government has started an inquiry into the new alignment of the road and the scandal that surfaced during the former Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

A senior official of the Planning and Development Department told Dawn that the provincial government included three main projects of Rawalpindi in its annual development programme and allocated Rs50 million for the ring road, Rs50 million for Rawal Expressway and Flood Channel (Leh Expressway) and Rs500 million for Kutchery Chowk remodeling project.

He said the contract of the ring road was awarded to Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) during PTI’s tenure and Rs4 billion were released for the project.

However, a work order was not issued and the government got back the released amount of Rs4 billion from the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) last month.

Allocation of token amount also shows govt not yet clear on launching project, says official

At the same time, the official said, the provincial government formed an inquiry committee led by Civil Services Academy Director General Umer Rasool to probe the ring road scandal.

He said the committee called former commissioner Rawalpindi Mohammad Mehmood, officials of the RDA and Land Revenue Department.

The scandal came to light when former prime minister Imran Khan took notice of allegations that the Punjab bureaucracy and some PTI politicians had planned an additional road which would benefit some private housing societies and increased the actual cost of the project by Rs25 billion.

In August 2021, the then commissioner, Syed Gulzar Hussain Shah, cancelled the land acquisition for the project. Under Section 48(1) of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, the amount paid to people for acquisition of their land along the entire length of the illegally-advertised alignment falling in Rawalpindi and Attock districts was recovered.

After this, the previous Punjab government made a new alignment. As per the new route, the 38.3-km-long route will start at Banth near Rawat and end at Thalian near the motorway. A new price assessment was made after imposing section 4 in the area to stop people from sale and purchase of land.

The PML-N came to power in April and had reservations on the new alignment and decided to hold an inquiry.

When contacted, a senior RDA official said it was not clear if the project would be launched this year.

“A token money has been allocated for the project in the annual development programme, but the RDA has chosen a contractor and just needs to get the go-ahead signal from the government to start work,” he said.

He said Rs50 million allocated for the project indicated that the government was not yet clear on starting work on the project, adding that for the last four years, the provincial government had been allocating funds for the project in the annual development programme but was yet to start work.

It was the main project of the garrison city as there was a plan to establish economic zones along the main road, he added.

“After the increase in petroleum prices, the cost of construction material has increased. If the government allowed revision in the rates of development projects, the cost of the Ring Road project would also escalate,” he said.

Commissioner Noorul Amin Mengal, who is the project director, was not available to comment despite repeated attempts. However, RDA spokesman Mohammad Irfan said the authority was waiting for a go-ahead signal from the government to launch the work.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2022

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