The cost of the failed parking plaza project in Jheeka Gali near Murrree continues to haunt the Punjab government as Pakistan Muslim League-N President Nawaz Sharif on Sunday distributed Rs120 million among landowners and shopkeepers displaced in 2008.
Some 15 landowners and shopkeepers were paid the price of land and compensation for the loss of their businesses in Jheeka Gali market after they were displaced to make way for a 12-storey parking plaza four years ago.
The Highway Department of Punjab continues to face the consequences of the overly ambitious decision to build a parking plaza at a site that has always been vulnerable to landslides. Billions of rupees have been spent in the last four years on raising retaining walls and belly bridges to avoid the impact of regular landslides after digging to prepare for laying the foundation of the plaza was carried out.
The project was to be completed by late 2010 but was abandoned in its early stages when the contractor failed to control landslides in the area and a British consulting firm declared the site unfit for heavy construction.
According to different officials familiar with the project, the Punjab government awarded a contract worth Rs1.5 billion to a private firm to raise the structure of a parking plaza, all the while ignoring the advice of former Murree Town nazim Sardar Saleem that the site selected for the building was allocated for a road and a local market and it could not provide the kind of solid foundation required for the mega-project.
To top it off, the Punjab government not only decided to go ahead with the multi-million rupee project, but also sidetracked Murree Town Municipal Administration (TMA) building bylaws which limit structures to a ground floor and two additional floors.
The design was passed by then-consultant Nespak and the contractor, Ansar Brothers, started drudging to lay the foundation for the plaza to ease traffic congestions.
As the parking plaza’s site is about four kilometres from Murree City, trams with two bogies were obtained from a Japanese company to ply from the plaza to Mall Road. These trains are now shuffling on Mall Road from Kashmir Point to General Post Office.
A senior provincial highways department official informed The Express Tribune, on condition of anonymity, that millions of rupees had been spent on different approaches including erecting wire-crates filled with heavy stones and retaining walls to stop the landslide that had already taken away a portion of Kashmir Highway linking Murree with Rawalpindi.
As an alternate, a wooden bell bridge is functional as a single-lane route for traffic at the site after the road was sheared off by a landslide following drudging to lay the foundation for the parking plaza.
Former Murree nazim Sardar Saleem confirmed he had conveyed the vulnerability of the site to landslides.
I had proposed parking facilities be added to the basements of Murree TMA offices, but the change of government in Punjab in 2008 led to the project being shelved, he said.
Multiple attempts were made to contact Raja Ashfaq Sarwar, who as a PML-N leader and adviser to the Punjab chief minister supervises development projects in Murree, but he was not available for comment.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.
More in PakistanDuring raid at RCB, police officials thrashed