ISLAMABAD, April 23: The National Highway Authority (NHA) has yet to restart work on the Lowari tunnel even though the government has provided Rs2 billion for the project.
The work on the tunnel was stopped about 18 months ago because of a shortfall in required finances. A Korean company, Sambo, stopped work on the project and warned the NHA that if its dues were not paid it would leave the tunnel incomplete and move away its construction machinery. It was then that the NHA officials approached the prime minister for making the necessary funds available in order to restart the work on the project.
NHA chairman Syed Mohammad Ali Gardezi told an executive board meeting of the authority in Dec 2011 that the finance ministry had released the funds on the special directive of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for restarting the work. The NHA chief claimed to have held fruitful talks with the contractor and said the work would be restarted soon. But five months after Rs2 billion was paid to the NHA, the contractor has yet to resume work on the project. Its cost is increasing with the passage of time. The three-year project was launched in 2006 and it was supposed to be completed in 2009, but non-availability of funds delayed completion of this highly important route.
The delay in construction increased its cost by more than double. When the project was first designed its cost had been estimated at Rs8 billion but now its cost has jumped to Rs18 billion. The deadline has been stretched to 2014. The NHA officials earlier blamed financial constraints as the main stumbling block in the completion of the tunnel. An amount of Rs6 billion had been spent on the project so far but the Korean company stopped work because of non-payment of money.
The NHA plans to extend the route to the Central Asian Republics through Tajikistan. It will not only provide round-the-year land communication and transport facilities to the people of Chitral with the rest of the country but also boost economic activities in the
area. It may be mentioned that Chitral district remains cut off for four to five months through the land route from the rest of the country because of heavy snow in winter. The tunnel will solve the problem and provide land transport facilities throughout the year.
Former MNA Abdul Akbar accused the NHA and the federal government of diverting the Lowari tunnel funds to roads construction in Multan and Larkana. He said that Rs2 billion released by the prime minister to restart work had also been diverted to other uses. He warned he would launch a movement against the NHA and the federal government if work was not resumed on the project.