ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal appeared before the Supreme Court on Tuesday to explain that many development projects in the country had to be put on hold by the government due to the curtailment of the development budget from Rs1 trillion to Rs550 billion.

A two-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, had taken up a plea regarding the change in location of the Bhong Interchange on the Sukkur-Multan Motorway (M-5) despite the court’s directions in this regard.

Ahsan Iqbal came to attend proceedings after the court expressed dismay over a report furnished by the planning ministry and summoned its secretary over the change in the project’s location. The issue had cropped up during a hearing on Aug 13, 2021, when the court was hearing a suo motu case regarding vandalism of the Ganesh Mandir (Bhong) in Rahim Yar Khan.

During that hearing, local philanthropist Sardar Rais Munir Ahmed had informed the court about his donation of a piece of land near the Hindu temple for setting up of the CPEC interchange in Bhong.

Planning minister says govt to file review petition over Bhong interchange

Advocate Rana Waqar, who is assisting senior counsel Hamid Khan on behalf of Raees Munir, told Dawn that on Sept 28, 2021, the National Highway Authority (NHA) told the apex court that it had completed its feasibility study and the CDWP had also approved the project after which an amount of Rs500 million out of a total cost of Rs1.2 billion was allocated for the project in the 2022-23 budget.

After the change of the government, Rana Waqar said, the location of the Bhong Interchange was moved to Jamaldini Wali by the Planning Division, despite the fact that the funds for the project had already been allocated.

‘Not economically feasible’.

On Tuesday when the case was taken up, a report was furnished before the apex court on behalf of the Planning Commission, in which an impression was given that the site of the project was changed since the original project was not economically feasible.

In the report, the commission said the distance between Jamaldin Wali and Bhong was 15 kms only, adding that there was also a public demand for the construction; therefore, the apex court should allow the planning development to order the NHA to carry out a comprehensive study based on the traffic data and economic viability of both locations for the interchange.

The economically viable option will serve both places, the report explained while adding that due to the constrained fiscal space, provision of the interchange at both places was not possible for the government. It also said the government would expedite the work on the project in the light of the NHA study.

Consequently, the court summoned the planning secretary, but Ahsan Iqbal appeared instead. Mr Iqbal took the responsibility for the project and said that a number of projects had to be stopped due to a decrease in the development budget.

However, the court reminded the minister that it had ordered the construction of the interchange in Bhong after consultations with the government and any violation may amount to disobedience of the court’s order.

Ahsan Iqbal responded the government did not mean to disobey the court’s order. A proper response on behalf of the government would be furnished through a review petition against the earlier directions of the court, he added.

The SC in its Aug 25, 2022 order had cited the contents of the application moved before the apex court in which it was claimed that the location of the interchange was changed for no technical reasons, but only for political considerations and to favour a political personality.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022

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