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May 13, 2021

R3 fiasco: A member of three-man inquiry committee finds no official hanky-panky

ISLAMABAD: Additional Commissioner, Coordination (ACC), Rawalpindi Jahangir Ahmed, who was part of a three-member fact-finding committee on the proposed Rawalpindi ring road (R3) affair, has, in his statement, found no financial hanky-panky at the administration level in the project.

All the three members of the inquiry committee --newly appointed Rawalpindi Commissioner Gulzar Shah, the transferred deputy commissioner and the ACC -- have submitted their separate reports.

Gulzar Shah, who headed the forum, has in his findings accused his predecessor, Muhammad Mahmood, of massive corruption, a charge the latter denies.

In his statement, the ACC answered all the nine questions put to the fact-finding committee by the Punjab government through a notification that had established the body.

Jahangir Ahmed wrote that no evidence has come to light about the involvement of public functionaries. However, a windfall effect and rent-seeking by a large number of estate players was there due to the fact that the R3 alignment was made public after the approval of the project.

The question was whether the addition of the Attock Loop -- which was not part of the proposal by NESPAK in 2017-- is prima facie indicative of possible rent-seeking by both government functionaries at the helm of affairs in Rawalpindi as well as estate players operating in the area.

To another question, the ACC said the secretary of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) board told the inquiry committee that no agreement was reached between the CDA, the Project Management Unit (PMU). The Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) director general committed during the CDA board meeting on Nov 6, 2020 that a new summary will be submitted to the CDA board. NHA Member Naveed Wahla informed the committee that no agreement/commitment was reached by the NHA and RDA on the axle overload regime. However, negotiations and an unsigned agreement were being discussed jointly.

Jahangir Ahmed said local access was provided on all the interchanges throughout the R3 not on Paswal alone. The question was that there are serious concerns as to the mechanism adopted to allow local access for the R3 through design amendments particularly in the Attock loop and Paswal zigzag.

Responding to another question, the ACC wrote that due to the issuance of a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and in the wake of existing market hype, a housing project, Nova City, sold the registration of around 20,000 files as per the statement of Assistant Commissioner, Fatehjang, which is over and above the land for which it was granted the NOC and approval.

Jahangir Ahmed said that the R3 alignment of 2017, done by NESPAK, was a study which was subsequently approved by the chief minister. But importantly, the project was to be built on a loan basis from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which approved the concept paper and asked to constitute the programme monitoring and implementation unit (PMIU), detailed feasibility design including Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and resettlement plan.

For a detailed feasibility design including enhanced scope to revisit the alignment, Zeeruk International was hired, which submitted a new alignment according to the revised scope in April 2020. At the same time, the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) submitted its unsolicited private-public partnership (PPP) proposal in the RDA.

The ACC said the RDA submitted the FWO proposal to the PPP Cell of the Punjab government, which shared it with the Project Review Committee (PRC) that accordingly considered it in seventh and eighth meeting. Subsequently, it was presented in the third PPP policy and monitoring (PNM) board headed by the chief minister.

The meeting accorded authorisation that the Punjab PPP Authority/PPP Cell will process the unsolicited proposal in accordance with the PPP Act 2019/PEPRA rules. The fourth Meeting of PNM Board declared the unsolicited project proposal for the R3 submitted by FWO as non-responsive and decided to take the project forward through a solicited project proposal. So the project was shifted from the AIIB loan mode to PPPs.

The ACC said that the enhanced scope of alignment was proposed by Zeeruk International first and then later reviewed by NESPAK. In the first meeting of the PSC it was decided that the alignment option from Radio Pakistan to Murat village M2 was finalized. In a letter dated Feb 24, 2020 RDA Chief Engineer intimated this to Zeeruk International. The Project Director (Commissioner), R3, has already permitted to carry out a feasibility and detailed design from M2 to Sangjani N5.

Jahangir Ahmed said afterwards, Zeeruk International started its feasibility as per the changed scope which is questionable. But the NHA Member when asked stated that the NHA did not permit travel on the M2 therefore they can proceed from N5 to N5. Initially, Zeeruk International proposed an alignment which was passing through the upper side of the CPEC route. The Strategic Planning Division (SPD) rejected the alignment and stated that they have sensitive installations so they can’t allow this alignment. The SPD guided them to stay on the other side of the CPEC route. The NHA was contacted again to tug in this R3 in existing right of way (ROW) of CPEC route. The NHA allowed the use of their CPEC route for R3.

The NHA after reviewing the previous alignment highlighted the terminal point of R3 at N5 to get optimum benefits from its construction. Making the terminal point Thalian interchange would not only create congestion on Motorway but also an extra onus of double toll on commuters.

Keeping in view the NHA proposal the project was enhanced to the Attock loop and its connectivity was also made with N5 through the Paswal zigzag via Sangjani and the Margalla Highway. NESPAK had given the previous alignment in 2017 and again in 2021 it reviewed the enhanced alignment. The proposed alignment would start from Rawat and after connecting Lahore-Islamabad and Hakla-Dera Ismail Khan Motorways would terminate at Sangjani connecting to Margalla Highway.

The PRC in 13th meeting was apprised that the R3 node from N5 Radio Pakistan Station node to Hakla-Dera Ismail Khan motorway will be an exclusive ROW for the private investor. The alignment was made public as soon as it was approved. So as a result, a windfall effect and rent-seeking by a large number of societies came to the surface.

The ACC said that the axle load model/regime implemented on the R3 was the same as applicable on the GT Road/N5 because all the traffic on the R3 was coming from N5 GT Road. Accordingly, weigh stations were the mandatory part of the design criteria for construction of R3 in the concession agreement. No facts were concealed from potential bidders, all requirements were clearly spelled out in the concession agreement including the requirements of weigh stations and fine mechanism from which it is evident that traffic overload was being controlled on the R3.