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Fleeting moments

October 5, 2019

Delayed public projects

Opinion

October 5, 2019

Every government boasts about serving the people who elected it. Hence attending to public needs and ensuring its wellbeing should be at the top of its priorities.

Projects of public interest should be completed within the stipulated period, without discrimination over which government initiated them. But the situation on the ground speaks otherwise.

Ignoring or leaving projects halfway only because they were started by the previous government doesn’t bring a good name to the incumbent government. Consider the Orange Line Train project. Had the project proceeded according to its original plan, thousands would have been travelling by it and reimbursing the project’s cost through fares.

Billions have already been poured into the project, yet it remains incomplete despite the Chinese investment in it. The project was supposed to be operative in July 2019. The new date given for starting its operations is in March 2020.

Another undertaking in public interest, the computerisation of revenue records, remains in limbo. Last month, the Supreme Court issued notices to the federation and the provinces to report on the status of the computerisation of land records. One of the honourable judges hearing the case said that ‘patwaris’ sometimes demand a million just to issue a certificate of property ownership (Fard). One wonders why we carry on with an antiquated system of recordkeeping when computers have completely revolutionised the way such records are maintained.

Even if you’re a small property owner and need to obtain a loan from a bank by mortgaging property, you need a property ownership certificate from a patwari. The first thought of it sends a shiver down your spine. More so for those who had heard of a patwari but had never dealt with one.

A patwari runs his own secretariat, the ‘patwarkhana’, where he presides like a king, with dilapidated registers strewn on the mat in front. The previous government wanted to do away with the role of the patwari by computerising the revenue record but the indomitable creature survived. As a result, the computerisation of land records to facilitate the public is not in sight in the near future.

Similarly, the 10.7km long Multan Road extension project called the Hudiara Drain Project that began with great gusto remains incomplete, despite the fact that eight lanes of the project have been reduced to six lanes. In the absence of proper U-turns, traffic muddle by pressure-honking heavy vehicles continues on the main entrance to and exit out of the provincial metropolis.

Inquire from NHA officials about the delay in completion of the project and you invite a typical answer: the proposal for compensation to acquire land on roadsides is on the table of Member Board of Revenue. You’re advised to be patient until it’s signed by him. Regular travellers on this stretch of road, including this writer, collectively pray the member signs the proposal enabling the civil works to proceed. Projects left halfway cause more miseries to the public than if they hadn’t been initiated in the first place.

Moreover, the delay in completion of projects means a huge dent to the public kitty. Take the case of Peshawar’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system whose originally estimated cost was Rs49 billion. It was soon revealed that the original BRT design was bedevilled by serious defects and needed remodelling. The remodelling jacked up the cost to Rs68 billion. Finally, another sum of Rs3 billion had to be added to absorb the rupee devaluation factor, escalating the cost to Rs71 billion. Now the government has set up an inquiry commission to look into the BRT affair.

Since unfinished projects cause the people immense hardships, their attention remains focused on them whether it’s the BRT in Peshawar, computerisation of revenue record or the Multan Road extension project.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. Email: [email protected]