Still no clean water for Punjab

Aab-e-Pak Authority remains non-functional

Khalid Qayyum April 16, 2020
A representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: Despite the tall claims of the government to ensure the provision of clean drinking water in the province, a project initiated toward the goal has been hit with delays because of the non-serious attituede of the authorities concerned.

Even after a year of its formation, the Punjab Aab-e-Pak Authority – which is responsible for ensuring the provision of clean water across the province – has remained dysfunctional.

The authority’s PC-I has not been approved yet, while the service rules and regulations department is also yet to approve the appointment of the employees at the authority because of which a permanent chief executive officer (CEO) is also yet to be hired.

The authority could also not have an office building because the finance department has not provided any funds for its establishment. Subsequently, the District Monitoring Officer (DMO) of the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) was given the additional charge of the authority’s CEO and he has been using the agency’s head office to look after the authority’s affairs. Moreover, the Punjab government has withheld Rs7.5 billion worth of fund allocated for the project and has transferred the money to other provinces.

In the first phase, the authority finalised a RS6 billion PC-I for the Saaf Pani Project. However, only Rs510 million are remaining in the budget for the project in the current fiscal year’s allocations.

Per sources, the funds might not be utilised by end of the ongoing fiscal year because it about to end in two months (June 2020). Moreover, the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the province has halted many operations.

The planning and development board of Punjab has not held any meetings with the public works department (PWD) despite pressure from Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar.

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Owing to the government’s lack of interest regarding the development of the authority and its key projects aimed at the supply of clean water, the Aab Pak Authority has started functioning like a non-governmental organisation (NGO) by setting up and restoring filtration plants in various parts of Punjab, including Lahore.

In Lahore, for example, the municipal corporation Lahore (MCL) has 99 filtration plants, all of which are dysfunctional at the moment, while 54 of them need repairs and maintenance. The authority’s member board of director and renowned industrialist Gohar Ejaz – through support from his NGO Gohar Foundation – has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Aab Pak Authority after which the overhauling of the filtration plants has started.

The foundation will operate the filtration plants for a year, while the electricity bill for the project will be borne by the MCL.

Another NGO, which is operating in Sargodha and Gujranwala, has also contributed in the restoration of 20 halted filtration plants. Akin to that, a board member of the authority has also assured to reopen closed filtration plants in Faisalabad using his finances.

Sources say that the authority had prepared a feasibility report for one of its projects free of charge through the support of Action Water Aid, another NGO. Speaking to The Express Tribune, Aab Pak Authority’s acting CEO Syed Zahid Aziz said that the Governor of Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar has been working hard for the clean water project.

He added that the Punjab Working Development Party (PWP) will approve the feasibility after which tenders will be announced in May.

“We need Rs510 million as advance payment for the contractor because the project’s PC-I is Rs 6 billion.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2020.

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