RAWALPINDI, Feb 12: Model Bazaar near Liaquat Bagh has turned into a white elephant for the City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR). After having spent Rs27 million on its construction and recruitment of staff, the bazaar has not seen activity pick up and this led to its closure two months back. Now the CDGR is hoping that local politicians will set aside differences and chip in to make it a success but some local government officials insist that even this effort will not be of much help as the master plan behind the project is flawed.
On the recommendation of PML-N MNA Malik Shakeel Awan, the Punjab government had allotted the bazaar an area of 20 kanals, and constructed 200 stalls, food courts, canteen, and public toilets as well. Every month, the city government paid Rs200,000 for overheads, which included salaries of administrative staff and security personnel salaries and maintenance. And even though it has been shut for the last two months, CDGR has continued to spend the same amount per month to retain staff.
Officials say the CDGR had tried to run the bazaar by substantially decreasing the daily rent of stalls but even that attempt failed. “Initially, the CDGR fixed Rs150 daily for the stall but later it reduced it to Rs100 daily to attract the stallholders. But all efforts went down the drain,” an official said on the request of anonymity.
The reason behind this lacklustre performance is the existing competition nearby. “The Punjab government rushed into building Model Bazaar without properly surveying the area and the site. It is just two kilometres away from the main wholesale vegetable and fruit market of the garrison city, Narankari Bazaar. People prefer to buy their groceries from there rather than coming to the Model Bazaar and even vendors prefer to set their stalls there,” the official revealed.
Similarly, Rawal Town Administrator Saif Anwar Jappa told Dawn that the bazaar was too close to the main wholesale market and thus failed to attract local traders. “The local town administration suggested to the provincial government that stalls be allotted in Model Bazaar to vendors who encroached on the main bazaars in and around Raja Bazaar but this was turned down,” he added. “Punjab Model Bazaar Monitoring Committee Chairman Afzal Khokhar is expected to visit the city soon and resolve the issue.”
Given that the bazaar has been an unsuccessful venture so far, the CDGR has sought the help of the local business community and PML-N leadership to breathe some life into the project.
Insiders told Dawn that District Coordination Officer (DCO) Saqib Zafar held a meeting with two PML-N MNAs - Hanif Abbasi and Malik Shakeel Awan - and requested them to forget political differences between each other and help the CDGR in attracting the stallholders to run the project initiated by their party.
“The DCO asked the two MNAs to help otherwise the project would earn a bad name for the provincial government for wasting public money,” an official said on the request of anonymity. “The two MNAs agreed in principle but no concrete efforts have been made in this regard.”
Meanwhile, DCO Saqib Zafar told Dawn that the CDGR was trying its best to attract the stallholders to run the bazaar, and at the same admitted that site selection for the bazaar was flawed that had created problems for the administration to run the bazaar effectively.
It may be mentioned here that the bazaar is built on an area that was a park. During the expansion of Leh Nullah in 2002, the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) demolished the park, which was known for its spacious lawns where former President General Ziaul Haq arranged Iftar-dinners for notables of the city.
After the expansion of Leh Nullah, the site was used as playing ground for cricket by the local youth. Apparently, at the same time, the District Education Department requested that the site be given to construct a boys degree college, but that was ignored by the government. “A degree college for boys is direly needed in the area as there are only four boys colleges while 22 girls degree colleges,” the official said.
He is seconded by Dr Mohammad Ashraf, director colleges, who added: “We proposed to the CDGR and the provincial government to allot the land near Liaquat Bagh to the Education Department but it instead constructed Model Bazaar. We were given an alternative site for the boys college at Khayaban-i-Sir Syed.”
When contacted, MNA Malik Shakeel Awan insisted that there was a dire need in the constituency to provide relief to poverty-stricken people as there was no weekly bazaar in the area. “The main hurdle is the absence of a main entry road to the bazaar and a new road would be constructed soon and the bazaar would start again to provide relief to the people as committed by chief minister,” the MNA claimed.