The roads are the most dreaded things the commuters of Lahore have to face these days. Anyone can get stuck anywhere for any period of time. No doubt, the load of traffic is increasing by the day but it is the unfinished and incessant construction and civil works in the city that are causing distress.
There have been incidents where the pedestrians and vehicles fell into ditches dug up along the roads and main streets. Though there are instructions to properly cordon off such places and leave some buffer zone around, very often these are ignored.
Another disturbing fact is that multiple development projects have been launched at the same time. When a component under one head is completed, digging and excavation are started as part of another project, and this goes on endlessly.
There are reports that the funds allocated for MNAs, MPAs and local governments are simultaneously being used for development works; a major reason for this is that the going year happens to be the election year. The sitting government wants to woo their voters through such spending.
Besides, the delay in execution of development work due to different reasons has added to the misery of the people many of whom are facing health complications due to undue exposure to dust particles suspended in the air. The ditches and other dug up places have become even more dangerous due to monsoon; they fill up with water and the approaching people have no idea there is void beneath.
Saeed Ahmed, an automotive parts dealer, has strong reservations about this form of development carried out by the government. He says the roads leading to his house and the street right in front of it have remained dug up for almost six months. “For weeks, I wasn’t able to even drive my car out of the garage,” he tells TNS.
“They first came to carpet the road in the street, and once the task was completed they came back to dig it and lay water pipes for supply and sanitation purposes. What’s more, they left the street in this condition, with heaps of mud lying about, for well over a month, at the pretext that we hadn’t cleared our bills.”
Ahmed finds it strange that the government representatives should have gone missing for four long years but “just when the election season kicked off, they emerged out of nowhere. The work they are doing now should have been finished a long time back.”
The government representatives say delay in projects like construction of Orange Line Metro Train and the remainder of Lahore Ring Road are responsible for the public’s woes. A leader of the ruling PML-N, who does not want to be named, says, “Had the Orange Line corridor been constructed in time, the people would not have to face the problems they are facing now.”
He hopes the situation will improve soon, and expects the court shall vacate the stay against construction at certain points along the Orange Line route the way it did with the construction of Ring Road’s Southern Loop-III recently. His point is that due to the abandoned work, the people are unable to find a detour in case there is road construction or repair work going on in areas close by.
Khawaja Ahmad Hassaan, Chairman of the steering committee for Lahore Orange Line Metro Train Project (LOMTP), is also hopeful that the project will be finished by December 2017. He says that five cars meant for the project are in the process of being shipped from China. “The traffic congestion and dust shall come down automatically.”
Another important project launched simultaneously in the city is the expansion of Canal Bank Road. Reportedly, the road is being expanded from Thokar Niaz Beg to Doctor’s Hospital in the first stage, and then from Doctor’s Hospital to Mall Road, and from there to Harbanspura. This has limited the options for those commuters who would take this road to bypass the congested areas.
Anwar Hussain, Local Councils Association of the Punjab (LCAP) President, thinks that the lack of real-time monitoring and accountability of local governments regarding the use of public funds has also caused delay in timely completion of different development projects. “Under the rules, there should be finance committees in place to monitor the use of development funds. But these have hardly been formed.”
Hussain, who is an expert on local governance and engaged in enhancing the capacity of local governments, is of the view that the use of development work to appease prospective workers is an urban phenomenon. “That’s why it is visible in urban areas only. In the rural areas, the voters align with people on the basis of biradari, groups, and influence of candidates on police, revenue offices etc.”
Citing the results of his research, Hussain says that hardly any local government representative in rural areas is being provided with funds for development. “All these are concentrated in the cities.”
Ejaz Choudhry, a leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Punjab, alleges that the development expenses have been issued only to the ruling party representatives, whether in the National Assembly, the Provincial Assembly, or district government. The same was stated by Mehmood-ur-Rasheed, the leader of opposition in the Punjab Assembly, who said that the ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had held a meeting in Governor House, Punjab, and announced development funds for the legislators from ruling party only. “In their bid to do maximum work in least possible time, the legislators have converted their respective constituencies into ruins.”
On ways to minimise public exposure to dust, Naseemur Rehman, Director, Environment Protection Department (EPD, Punjab, says the contractors of all the projects have been directed to sprinkle water on the roads. Besides, it is desirable that the locations where work is underway should have covers around so that dust particles and construction material does not fall in the way of the commuters. “The risks can be minimised if these instructions are followed/honoured.”