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Gilgit-Skardu road project faces delay despite PM’s orders

A jeep veers off course while travelling on Gilgit-Skardu Road. — File photo

A jeep veers off course while travelling on Gilgit-Skardu Road. — File photo

GILGIT: Work on the repair and widening of strategically important 170 kilometers Gilgit-Skardu road could not be started despite the announcement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in this regard on April 14 this year during his visit to Gilgit.

The project to rebuild the road, which is considered the lifeline of Baltistan division, would cost Rs40 billion. Later, the Prime Minister House also issued directives for starting work on the project, but it could not be done as yet.

Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly Speaker Fida Mohammad Nashad, who also belongs to the area, told Dawn that the issue of road project had been stuck in Islamabad for many years. Due to the bad condition of road, travel on it has become a life risk and traffic incidents a routine.

Mr Nashad said that the bureaucracy should respect the PM’s authority and implement his directives as soon as possible. He alleged that officials of the Planning Commission of Pakistan were responsible for the delay.

Zulfiqar Ali Shigri, a resident of Shigar, told Dawn the Gilgit-Skardu road was the only route for the residents of Baltistan division to access other parts of the country. He said that successive governments in Islamabad had used the Gilgit-Skardu road project as a tool of politics for GB elections. He alleged that the announcement of Mr Sharif was also a bid to win the GB elections.

Mr Shigri recalled that the same project was also announced by the previous PPP government in 2009. The road was first constructed by cutting rocks of the mountains in 1982.

Five bridges were also built on the road that also needs urgent repair or reconstruction. The road is currently in poor shape due to erosion by the Indus River and frequent landslides. In rainy days the road remains blocked with landslides and the Baltistan region cut off from rest of the country for many days.

Ghulam Hassan said that travel through the road now took double time than normal road and patients, senior citizens and women suffered the most because of this situation. Besides, the transporters charge high fares.

Mohammad Ali, a tour operator belonging to Baltistan, said that there was a general decline in the tourism industry in the region because of the poor condition of the main approach road.

Sources said that invitation for bid for upgradation and widening of the Gilgit-Skardu Road was advertised in Oct 2013 and a Chinese company “Gezhouba Group of Company” (GGC) had offered loan for the project. After technical and financial evaluation by NHA and a series of meetings the GGC agreed to execute the project.

They said that the contract between the GGC and NHA was signed on July 21, 2014. The sources said that the contract documents were sent to the ministry of communication for approval so that application for the loan could be moved to the Exim Bank of China. They said that GGC also sent a letter to the prime minister on Sept 30, 2013.

They claimed that the PM office instead of approving the project sent a letter to the Planning Division for validation of the price by a third party. The sources said that the undue delay and re-evaluation could result in abandoning of the project.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2015

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