by Waseem-ur-Rehman Khan
The original idea of the Lahore Ring Road (LRR), the largest project of the province, was floated about 25 years back and a number of studies were conducted in this regard. The purpose of launching this project was to provide an alternative transport route to ease the traffic burden in Lahore. It saw many changes in its design – four times in 1992, 1999, 2004, and 2007 -for protecting the interests of some favourites in the government. Perhaps, still another. However, there are still more chances of re-designing the project. The project has already seen a number of changes that resulted in the increase in the cost and delay in the execution of the project. With the passage of each passing day, the cost of the project is an additional burden on the national exchequer. The logic behind these changes in design is to increase the ratio of commission given to various personalities.
In 1991, the World Bank (WB) prepared a feasibility report on 60 kilometres Ring Road. In 1995, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) presented its Ring Road scheme. However, it was decided to include Raiwind Road and with this alteration the total length of the road increased to 75 kilometers. The feasibility of the Ring Road project was finalised in 1997. President Musharraf performed the ground-breaking of the Lahore Ring Road Project on December 22, 2004.
The LRR will start from Babu Sabu and pass through Niazi Chowk, Shama Chowk, Ichhra, Kalma Chowk, Ferozpur Road, Allama Iqbal International Airport, Defence Housing Authority, Mahfuzpura, Harbanspura, Darogawala, Mehmood Booti, Bund Road, Old Ravi Bridge and New Ravi Bridge. The proposed new road alignment will run from the Defence Housing Authority to Hadiara Drain to Halloki, Bahria Town to Niaz Baig. When the project started in 1992, the actual cost of the six-lane road with 77 kilometres’ length was just Rs 7 billion. Now the Ring Road with six lanes (43 kilometres) comes at the cost of Rs 85 billion while the same road with 77 kilometres will cost approximately Rs 150 billion. Now, 30 percent of the work on the first phase from Niazi Chowk to Bund Road, is about to complete.
The political aspect and tragedy of the project is that the previous provincial government deliberately tried to modify and delay the project that resulted in damaging of the actual plan. Another delaying factor was the non-availability of foreign help after Pakistan conducted nuclear tests on May 28, 1998. With the installation of new government in the province, there are chances that this project will pick up speed and see the light of the day in the form of its completion. The long awaited project of the LRR got a new lease of life after the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) took charge of the province. But as the new government takes up the project with essential changes, its cost has gone up exorbitantly. The project review committee is working on new proposed road alignment in the LRR. The committee also informed Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif about the exact situation of the project. The Punjab government was likely to approve the new design of the Ring Road soon. The project showed the sign of life again after Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif showed keen interest in the early completion of the project. He had asked the Lahore Development Authority, Punjab Management Unit, Federal Planning Commission, Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency, and Nespak to provide the complete presentation on the project.
There is usually the practice of acquiring land by the Lahore Development Authority and the EDO revenue but in this case of Lahore Ring Road, the Board of Revenue was exclusively given the authority to acquire the land. There are also reports of the authorities leaving the project in the middle by the executing company for lack of acquiring land for the owners. Adding salt to the wounds is that the owners of the land acquired for the purpose are still not paid the price of the land promised to them. In this connection, a protest of those whose land was confiscated under the Ring Road plan was organised in Lahore in July for the full payment of the land acquired from them. A blame-game has started between various departments over the acquisition of the land for the project. When Nespak was contacted in this regard, an official of the company informed that the consultancy company is not responsible for the delay in the project but the government departments are a major hurdle in the speedy completion of the project.
Work on the LRR has again been deferred due to problems with the contractor while the project cost has reached Rs 6 billion. The construction of an interchange at the Saggian Chowk is one of the main components of the project, which has again been hit by fresh snags. The second important part of the project was linking the traffic from in and around Lahore to the Lahore Airport from the Burki Road intersection to the Ghazi Road intersection. The work was also stopped because the project was awarded to the contractor without handing over a complete Right of Work (ROW). The chief secretary has ordered an inquiry for fixing responsibility about why the ROW was not obtained prior to allowing the construction.
On the one hand, at a meeting of the Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP), various technical objections, including assurances for measures to control noise pollution, were raised. On the other hand, there is no executing agency at the moment. Therefore, the project has been deferred. The component of the Ring Road is, therefore, likely to be advertised again to hire another executing agency and the project cost is also likely to rise further.
The PDWP has, however, approved the second scheme between the intersections of the Burki and the Ghazi roads for linking the Ring Road to the new airport. This part of the project also hit snags because the planners had not consulted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) before preparing the PC-1. The CAA has objected to the design, which would have obstructed the entire front view of the Lahore airport building. The entire design, therefore, had to be changed and the flyovers had to be shifted away from the airport building. Other changes were also incorporated in the revised design, costing additional financial burden on the national exchequer. If such attitude continues at the government level, then it is feared that the LRR project will continue to suffer. Practically, the land affectees should also be compensated according to the market value. Without this the project will not see the light of the day.
Courtesy The Post