A multi-billion-rupee road project in violence-hit Karachi has pitched competing political forces against each other to save their vote banks along Lyari River, The Express Tribune has learnt.
According to sources in the Prime Minister Secretariat, the Lyari Expressway project has been delayed by seven years and has caused a conflict between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP). Constructing the 38-kilometer expressway, which was meant to be completed by 2004, originally cost Rs5.1 billion but is now estimated at Rs12 billion, sources said.
Areas around which construction remains halted include Mianwali Colony, Hasan Oulia, Tali Para, Qureshi Colony, Ilyas Goth and Liaquatabad. The main cause for building delays has been encroachments. While a carriageway along the Lyari River’s North bank is still facing delays, the one at the river’s South bank has reached its final stages after the administration succeeded in having the area vacated from supporters of the city’s main political party.
Sources said that other political parties, including the ruling PPP, have been pressing hard for a change in project design instead of convincing their supporters to relocate to localities offered by the government. If the government agrees to this “uneconomical” demand based on “vested interests”, it would further escalate the cost, sources said.
Sources said the issue has now been brought to members of the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission (PMIC) and the National Highway Authority (NHA) has recently given a presentation to the PMIC on the various options. Before making a final recommendation to the prime minister, PMIC Chief Malik Amjad Ali Noon will meet Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan, the city administration and project executer the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO).
Sources said that the commission will consider three options. The first option is to stick to the original project design and have the administration vacate the areas. The second option, which is supported by the president and prime minister, is to construct the road through Organi Nullah without touching surrounding localities. The third option is to divert the expressway.
The PMIC is inclined towards the first option, sources said, as it would not only save cost but also put a stop to the ever-increasing encroachments in Karachi.
Sources said that PMIC members also reviewed the NHA’s portfolio and expressed displeasure over delays and escalating costs of its projects. Currently, NHA is working on 104 projects and its throw forward has crossed Rs600 billion due to scarcity of resources. Owing to cash problems, sources said, circular debt is in the making in the road sector. The NHA owes Rs22 billion to various departments, including Rs 6.7 billion to the FWO.
Noon is said to have instructed NHA officials to cap the project at the current level and arrange money using their own resources instead of burdening the federal budget. The government has already slashed the federal government’s development budget by Rs100 billion and brought it to Rs180 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2011.