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KARACHI: When work was started on the Lyari Expressway Project (LEP) amidst much controversy in May 2002, the National Highway Authority (NHA) had expected to complete it in 30 months, that was in November 2004. But four-and-a-half years have passed, the revised deadline has been missed and the LEP is nowhere close to completion. Now the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), the executing agency for the NHA, hopes – if its prayers are granted – to have the southbound section running from Sohrab Goth to Mauripur completed by end 2007.

“This is possible if the remaining area where demolition has yet to be done is made available to us by December 31, as has been promised to us by the city government and the governor of Sindh,” Lieutenant Colonel Adil Khan, the Commanding Officer of the FWO overseeing the construction of LEP, told me.

Will this happen? Most people connected with the project are sceptical. There are two major areas coming in the way of the south bound section – a madressah between Sir Shah Suleman Road and Yaseenabad and the houses in PIB Colony which have leases and whose owners have gone to court. Both of these have resisted the idea of vacating the land without adequate compensation. This land constitutes 13 per cent of the area needed for construction on the southern sector.

With work completed on six of the eight flyovers on the south bound expressway and two of the four interchanges, Col Adil is optimistic about the pace of the work if he gets hold of the land that has been surveyed. But that is the big “IF”. With elections expected next year, many believe the government may not want to earn unpopularity and lose votes.

Col Adil says that their strategy is to concentrate on the south bound sector. “Once this is completed and people experience the benefits that flow from it, the momentum for the north bound expressway will be generated,” he observed. But the northern section is the more problematic one. Only 64 per cent of the land to be made available for the right of way has actually been cleared so far. The two major obstructions are Mianwali Colony (where the federal parliamentary affairs minister Mr Sher Afgan has his supporters) and Hassan Aulia village which has existed at its location for more than a century and has the Sindh chief minister’s backing. The inhabitants of these neighbourhoods have refused to have their homes demolished. Col Adil said that he had had many meetings with the community leaders and they seem to be coming round to the idea that the LEP will be built.

But a visit by me to these two areas found the people quite determined to hang on to their homes. They begged and pleaded that I should plead their case in my paper and help them retain their homes. With no demolition work in progress as I had seen in February when I had visited the site last, it seems that the human factor that should have first been kept in view is now obstructing the construction work. Col Adil appeared to sympathise with the people who are being made homeless, but he felt helpless.

The office of Lyari expressway resettlement project’s commissioner, Mr Shafiq Piracha, also wore a deserted air. Gone were the crowds who had mobbed me twice ten months ago to hand me their petitions complaining that they had not been given the plot and the Rs50,000 cheque they were entitled to when their house was demolished. Mr Piracha, as suave as ever, when I went unannounced to his office told me that the revenue department was not sending over any lists of people that had to be resettled, hence he was attending to some other development project.

But he did show me huge bundles of applications from people claiming they had been denied plots. These applications had been sent to President Pervez Musharraf who had forwarded