The Thatta-Sujawal Bridge that connects four districts to Karachi has been closed for heavy traffic for at least the next three years. Senior officials, however, fear that heavy vehicles may never be allowed to pass through this bridge.
The bridge, which was opened for traffic in 1967, developed cracks before Ramazan and has now been closed for heavy traffic, including passenger buses and goods transport. Repair work is being carried out by the Sindh Coal Authority (SCA), instead of the works and services department, and will take almost three months to be completed.
The bridge connects four districts of the province to Karachi: Sujawal, Badin, Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas. The route was used by motorists as well as by goods transporters and even trucks carrying livestock from Tharparkar to Karachi. The alternative route to Karachi - via Hyderabad - will increase commuting time and distance.
A summary has been sent to Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah for approval of a new bridge but there are fears in some quarters that the authorities may delay the construction of the bridge, causing many to suffer for years. There were rumours during Ramazan that the bridge will even be closed for light traffic but officials have categorically denied this, saying that no such decision has been made so far. "It is not yet decided whether the bridge will be closed for all traffic or only for heavy vehicles," confirmed Rana Suleman, the operations manager of the construction firm. "We have to send the core cutting to the laboratory and will only then be able to comment on whether the 'life' of the bridge has finished," he added.
The Thatta-Sujawal Bridge is the last on the Indus River and is almost a kilometre long. The officials believe it will take almost two to three years to complete the new bridge, if started on time.
"There is a lot of financial burden on us and it is difficult for us to convince the customers to pay a higher rate," said Amir Bux, a Badin resident who is involved in the construction business. He now incurs a higher cost to transport the construction goods to Badin because of the longer route. "The government should have provided an alternative route before demolishing the old one."
A lawyer, Advocate Punhoon Uqaili of Thatta, is considering legal action. "As always, it is the common man that suffers," said Uqaili, adding that it is the lack of planning on the part of the authorities that has caused the damage. "Speed bumps constructed nearly 15 years ago caused the bridge to weaken due to the added weight. On top of that, barriers were added four years ago and the extra burden has eventually caused the bridge to crack."
Intercity buses that travel through the route have come up with an ingenious solution instead of taking the longer route through Hyderabad. "One bus carries the passengers from Karachi till the bridge. From there, they are taken across the bridge in light vehicles onto the other side, where a second bus is waiting for them to take them to their final destination," revealed Abdul Aleem, the conductor of a bus that travels from Karachi to Jhudo. However, Aleem added that this new method is an added burden as it increases cost and the time of the journey.
According to SCA chief engineer Hasan Ali Memon, the new bridge needs to be built as soon as possible since the route is used to carry heavy machinery from Karachi to the Tharparkar coal project. "The bridge cannot tolerate weight of over 400 tons," said Memon. "Therefore the construction of the new bridge is very important since the Tharparkar coal project relies on this route for transport of its machinery. However, it will take at least a couple of years before the new bridge is completed and the provincial government is yet to approve the summary."
The goods transporters complain that business will be affected and so do those who often commute through the route. "We have been told to use the Hyderabad route for a few months but if the bridge does take several years to complete, then we will be ruined," said owner of Sindh Gul Arif Goods Transport, Babu Soomro.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2014.
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