ISLAMABAD: While flouting laid-down procedures, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi approved his pet project of road construction at a cost of Rs13 billion despite it not being a part of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) that parliament approved in June.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved nine schemes at a cost of Rs80.2 billion including two projects related to construction of Rawalpindi-Kahuta road. The premier chaired the Ecnec meeting – the highest project sanctioning authority of the federal government.
Out of nine schemes, six were not part of the original agenda of the Ecnec that the Cabinet Division Secretariat issued last week, including these two schemes.
The PSDP 2017-18 that parliament had approved in June last year included only one of these two schemes, which was related to construction of the Rawalpindi-Kahuta 28.4 kilometre long road. The government had allocated Rs1 billion for this construction scheme.
However, a press statement that the PM’s Office issued on Wednesday stated, “construction, land acquisition, affected properties compensation and relocation of utilities for dualisation of Rawalpindi-Kahuta Road including 4 Lane Bridge over Sihala Railway Pass at a total rationalised cost of Rs13.1 billion” has been approved by the Ecnec.
There is no allocation for the land acquisition project and the money from the road construction project will be diverted for acquiring the land, said the planning ministry officials.
On January 23, the Prime Minister’s Office axed financing for about 400 new and ongoing schemes by at least 60% aimed at creating more fiscal space for highways and parliamentarians’ projects. The PSDP 2017-18 allocations for unapproved projects, other than the National Highway Authority (NHA) and special programmes, shall be reduced by 60% with immediate effect,” said the directive issued by the PM Office.
The purpose of slashing the budget of these schemes was to create room to ‘fast moving projects’. There are about 1,100 schemes that are currently under execution and the authorities need Rs5.6 trillion just to complete work on them.
PM Abbasi performed the ground-breaking of the Rawalpindi-Kahuta project last week, much before the Ecnec approved the scheme.
The project is aimed at building a fast link between the federal capital and Azad Jammu and Kashmir and would benefit a population of over 2 million and cater to traffic of 14,000 vehicles per day. The average cost benefit of the road has been estimated to be Rs4.6 billion a year over the next 25 years.
The road expansion, starting from Kaak Pul on the Islamabad Expressway, would include a 6km long bypass at Sihala and a 9km bypass at Kahuta, before linking with Azad Pattan road in Azad Jammu Kashmir.
The project would provide the shortest route for traffic between Rawalakot, Kotli and twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, cutting down on transportation costs, reducing travel time, particularly for agricultural products and other perishable items, according to the National Highway Authority (NHA) officials.
The Ecnec approved a scheme for the upgrade of NTDC’s Telecommunication System at a total cost of Rs11.6 billion. It also cleared a scheme of Member National Assembly Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, as the Ecnec finally approved the project for establishment of 200-bed Centre of Excellence for Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Rawalpindi at a total rationalised cost of Rs5.3 billion.
The Ecnec approved southern Punjab Poverty Alleviation Project (SPPAP) costing Rs7.6 billion. The project aims at increasing the household income, employment opportunities, vocational and enterprise training with focus on women, provision of low cost housing and community infrastructure development for the people of southern Punjab.
The Ecnec approved construction of the Northern Bypass of Dera Ghazi Khan worth Rs4.9 billion. It also approved improvement & widening of Chitral – Boomi – Mastuj – Shandur 153 kilometre long road at a total rationalised cost of Rs16.8 billion. Similarly, the construction of Ziarat Mor-Kach-Harani Road and Harnai-Sanjavi Road (55.1km) at a cost of Rs8.4 billion was approved by the Ecnec. The project aims at connecting Balochistan to Punjab.
The Ecnec also approved land acquisition, affected properties compensation and relocation of utilities for KKH Phase-I CPEC (Havelian-Thakot) project at a total rationalised cost of Rs12.6 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2018.