Lingering road project adding to Chakwal citizens’ woes

CHAKWAL: The ever-delayed construction work on the Mandra-Chakwal Road is adding to the problems of the residents of Chakwal, who are faced with an increased number of accidents. The state of the road also means they cannot travel to the hospital in time in case of emergencies.

The project was launched by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on September 6, 2012. According to the plans drawn up then, 63.5 kilometres of the Mandra-Chakwal Road and 70 kilometres of the Chakwal-Sohawa Road were to be made dual carriageways and the project was meant to be completed by the end of 2014.

Because the former prime minister had released funds for the project by using his discretionary powers in violation of the laid-down procedures, work on the site was delayed due to legal reasons.

The project was re-launched by Prime Minister Sharif in July 2014, the cost of which has swelled to Rs9.32 billion. The now re-launched project was to be completed in a year by July 2015 but is still underway.

There are reports of a deadlock over the issue of funds between the government and the National Logistics Cell (NLC) which is the executing agency and that the first installment of Rs2,300 million in funds released to NLC by the previous government is still being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

“The government is asking NLC to utilise the already released funds but the latter seems to be reluctant because a case in this regard is pending with NAB,” an official told Dawn.

“After an increase in the cost of the project, the release of such a heavy amount has to be approved by different departments,” the official added.

So far, just Rs900 million have been spent on the project which indicated the completion of only 9pc of work. Other than the issue of funds, the project has also been faced with other problems.

“One of the bigger reasons for the delay is a sudden order by Prime Minister Sharif to widen the road from 6.1 to 7.3 metres, which he made in July 2014 during his speech at the re-launch of the project,” the official said.

When the premier directed for the road to be widened, it meant that electric poles, gas lines, PTCL fibre optics, graveyards, markets and houses were now in the way of the new road and they are yet to be cleared off.

It is also yet to be decided if the road is to pass through the Dhudial Town, through land owned by Pakistan Railways or if there should be a bypass instead. According to the initial plans, the road was to pass through Dhudial. Land at the left of the town is owned by Pakistan Railways and that on the right side is a residential area.

Pakistan Railways does not want to give up its land because, according to a Supreme Court order, it has to revive the dismantled Mandra-Chakwal track. On the other hand, if the road is to pass through the town, the government will have to demolish shops and infrastructure.

“The only solution is to construct a 2.5 kilometre bypass because we will have to build one in a decade and a half anyways,” a senior official said.

To save Chakwal from heavy traffic, a 14 kilometre bypass was also approved which was to be built from Bekhri Village to Talagang Road but funds for the said bypass are yet to be released.

Every day, there are reports of at least a couple of accidents on the Mandra-Chakwal Road, the sides of which have been dug up. When asked, Major Maqbool Alam who is NLC project manager, and executive engineer of PWD Quanateer Ahmed claimed the project will be completed by March 2017.

Similar claims were also made by MNA Raja Javed Akhlas and Senator Abdul Qayyum.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2016

Courtesy Dawn