Treatment of polluted water streaming into the Leh seems to be low on the agenda of Rawalpindi’s elected representatives and civic authorities, as the most important segment of the Leh Expressway and Flood Channel project is missing from the revised plan approved by the Punjab government. The elected representatives — all but one of whom belong to the ruling party in Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) — and civic agency officials seemed to be in agreement that roads are more important than citizens’ health.
The water treatment plant, a major segment of the Rawalpindi Environmental Improvement Project (REIP), was shelved in 2007 due to the withdrawal of Asian Development Bank funding for inordinate delay in its implementation.
Now, the priorities seemed to have taken a 180 degree turn, as the Leh Expressway, which was considered less important in the original plan, is now being given top priority, while the water treatment plant is off the agenda, according to city officials.
The Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) has already purchased over 5,000 kanals for the plant, which was to be installed on the banks of the Soan River near Adiala Road and would treat the polluted water of Leh before releasing it into the Soan River.
An RDA official said the land had been lying unutilised for the last six years after the Rawalpindi Environment Improvement Project (REIP), under whose umbrella it fell, was shelved in 2008. The cost of the Leh flood channel and expressway project, originally estimated at Rs17 billion in 2007, has now escalated to Rs25 billion.
After the revival of the Leh Expressway project, there was hope that the treatment plant project would be revitalised as the new sewage lines that form part of the latter project were to be laid under the expressway.
The official said the priority in the original plan for the Leh Expressway was uninterrupted flow of water through the paved channel, with untreated water going through sewage lines. New roads were to be built on both sides of the stream as well.
Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer (DCO) Saqib Zafar admitted the government’s focus was on roads. The DCO said the water treatment plant was part of the previous government’s REIP project, and they were unable to deliver it during their tenure.
Regarding the Leh Expressway, DCO Zaffar said different aspects of the project were under consideration. On new roads in the Leh area, he said there will be work done on both sides of the Leh from Gawalmandi to Rialto Chowk on Benazir Bhutto Road, and an 11 kilometre road from Katarian to Ammar Shaheed Chowk near Jhanda Chichi.
Also, the whole project is to be initiated according to the original plan, with sewerage trunks, paving of the streambed bed and new retaining walls, the DCO said, before cautiously noting that a final decision has not been taken yet and a meeting in this regard was to be held with FWO in the “next few days”.
Meanwhile, polluted water continues flowing through the Leh.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.