On May 5, 2013, addressing a gathering at Aabpara Chowk as part of the general elections campaign, Nawaz Sharif had announced that if his party was voted to power, it would ‘gift’ residents of the twin cities with a state-of-the-art mass transit system like the Lahore Metro Bus Service.
Today, the prime minister will inaugurate the over Rs45 billion Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project at the Jinnah Convention Centre. Parliamentarians, federal ministers and envoys have been invited by the chief minister of Punjab to witness the ceremony.
According to the schedule available at the time of filing, once the ceremony concludes, the premier along with selected individuals will head for Pak Secretariat where he would unveil the metro bus and take a ride along Jinnah Avenue.
The dignitaries who would accompany Sharif on the bus have been issued tickets along with the invitation cards.
Special lighting arrangements have been made along the metro corridor and spot lights have been fixed underneath trees along Jinnah Avenue. Debris and other construction material alongside the corridor have also been removed.
A tale of delays
Construction on the ’mega’ project began on February 28, 2014. The first completion date released by the Punjab government was mid-February this year. However, it was said the work was hampered due to the sit-ins by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek and later the torrential rains that descended on the twin cities.
On a recent visit, the Punjab chief minister said approximately 11 per cent [of the total cost of the project] price was escalated due to these sit-ins.
Chief engineer of the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) Saeed Akhtar told The Express Tribune that RDA was currently calculating the damages caused due to those protests. He said the cost remains the same but the contractors have claimed damages which is why the price has gone up.
On March 14, 2014, the Supreme Court Chief Justice took suo motu notice on an application of Senator Mushahid Hussain about adverse impacts of the project in terms of environmental degradation.
The court was assured that the ‘green character’ of Islamabad damaged due to the project will be restored and sufficient funds will be made available for the purpose.
Some 759 fully grown and decades-old trees, 3,773 small trees and several shrubs were cut down as they were falling in the alignment of the bus route. Additionally, 5,526 ground covers and small bushes were also removed.
According to the Capital Development Authority, the project posed a ‘short-term negative environmental impact’ in terms of loss of green cover, air, dust and noise pollution, and improper dumping of excavated material.
To cover this damage, a contract of Rs324 million was given to a firm owned by the brother of a federal minister for horticulture work.
However, on site, only ornamental plants have been planted and the work, according to the CDA, is faulty and not in accordance with the environment of Islamabad.
Dr Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the former head of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, said in the past he and other environmentalists was briefed about a phase-wise plan to recover the environmental damages caused by the project.
“Development has a cost. But it should not be to an extent that it becomes unbearable,” Chaudhary said. He added that the government’s plan of environmental rehabilitation was “satisfactory” but there was a dire need to give it as much attention as was given to the construction of the project.
On the other hand, CDA Member Environment Mustafain Kazmi said the authority was focusing on plantation alongside the metro corridor. He said damages could not be recovered in days or months and will take consistent efforts.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2015.