BRTS to be functional on Quaid’s birth anniversary

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has given December 25, 2012, as the final date to launch Lahore Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) project, approving minor alterations to the original plan under which buses will run on a 27-km long corridor from Gajjumatta in the eastern limits of Lahore to Shahdara Morr in the south.

The CM issued these instructions in a meeting held a couple of days ago which was attended by the authorities concerned.

In the meeting, the CM strictly directed completion of the project by December 24 so that it would be launched on December 25, the birthday of Quaid-e-Azam, to pay tribute to the nation’s father, sources present in the meeting told The News here on Wednesday.

However, the project would be launched without constructing a new dedicated bridge on the River Ravi. Initially, the buses will cross Ravi from old bridge, one bus at a time only. The CM has also given go ahead for construction of underpass and diversion of traffic at Kalma Chowk for smooth running of BRTS buses.

The CM has also instructed the project director of BRTS, Ahad Cheema, to speed up the work and increase the laying of concrete beams on the pillars at the rate of 80 beams per day, which was presently at 60 beams per day, officials said.

Other than this, clear instructions were also given to Planning and Development Board Chairman Javeed Aslam to ensure approval of all necessary packages in Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP) meetings and Finance Secretary Tariq Bajwa to ensure quick release of the funds for the project.
Carpeting of roads, which was affected during construction of BRTS, has to be completed without delay so as to quickly repair the public infrastructure affected by BRTS.

An official attached with the construction work of the BRTS said major work on the BRTS at ground level was completed while more than 60 per cent work was still left on the escalated route. Now the completion of escalated area work within this period is a difficult task despite that work on the project is continuing 24 hours a day in three working shifts, he said. He said that work on at least three to four stations located in the escalated area could not be completed within the given time.

On the other hand, both Finance Department (FD) and Planning and Development Board are unaware of the actual estimated cost of the project. The feasibility study was not shared with the both departments.

The BRTS was presented in PDWP meeting in different nine break-up packages for approval without submitting a comprehensive project document while same is the case with the FD.

An official of the FD said the government had been hiding the actual cost of the BRTS. It has approved the project in break-ups so that no confirm project cost is known, while a major part of the project – Ravi River Bridge – is still undecided which will be approved as the 10th package of the BRTS.

The provincial government will require federal government’s permission for construction of a new bridge on the River Ravi, and until then the buses will be routed through old Ravi Bridge which is being used for light traffic, he added.

The government covered up another thing which is the repairing cost of affected infrastructure due to construction of the BRTS, or construction of underpasses for rerouting of the traffic at Model Town and Kalama Chowk, land acquisition charges paid to the public were not included in the original BRTS project and have been shown as separate infrastructure development schemes to keep the BRTS project cost at lower side. Technically, these costs should have been included in the BRTS project, he said. For example construction of two underpasses as diversion projects, in which Model Town project has estimated cost of Rs 700 million which could be increased by the time of completion, and above one billion rupees estimated cost for Kalama Chowk diversion project which could be increased to Rs 2 billion.

Furthermore, once the project would be launched the operating cost would also be a regular feature which will be funded through the annual budget, he said, adding that landscaping and floriculture cost on the project had not been added yet. This cost will also be added up once the project is complete.

According to an official document of the Finance Department, Rs 18.768 billion had been released for the nine packages of the BRTS project so far out of which Rs 5.467 billion were released during the last fiscal year 2011-12 and Rs 13.301 billion during the first four months of the ongoing fiscal year 2012-13. The Finance Department had released Rs 3.1 billion for Package I, comprising from Youhanabad to Kalma Chowk, Rs 3.95 billion for Package II, Kalma Chowk to Qurtaba Chowk, Rs 4 billion for Package III, Qurtaba Chowk to MAO College, Rs 3.026 billion for Package IV, MAO College to Bhatti Chowk (elevated) with length of 2.1 kilometre, Rs 1.175 billion for Package V, Bhatti Chowk to Niazi Interchange, Rs 167.141 million for Package VI, Niazi Interchange to Shahdara Morr, Rs 750 million for Package VII, construction of additional bridge along Lahore Bridge, Rs 1.1 billion Package VIII, Gajju Mattah to Youhannabad 2.3 kilometre length, Rs 500 million for Package IX, provision and erection of escalators and platforms screen doors at BRTS stations, Rs 1 billion for construction of Bus Depot on southern side.

A spokesperson for the Finance Department said that so far no re-allocating of funds was made for the BRTS project. Almost, Rs 17 billion were allocated for the BRTS project in the fiscal year 2012-13 out of which Rs 13.301 billion were released so far. Other than this, Rs 5.0467 billion were also released for the BRTS project during the last fiscal year, he said, adding that almost Rs 4 billion allocated amount of the BRTS project was still unutilised.

However, according to communicated estimate, the project cost would be around Rs 30 billion, thus some Rs 6 to 8 billion extra allocation would be required which would be made latter step by the competent authority. He said that it would be the decision of the government to from which sector it would reallocate the fund or use blocked budgetary allocations. He said if the project would be completed in the timeframe given by the chief minister, the some reasonable amount of more than Rs 8 billion would be released for the BRTS project during the next two to three weeks. However, it will not affect the provincial exchequer as the Punjab has been in comfortable financial positions with smooth cash inflows.

Many attempts were made to get version from Chairman Planning and Development Board Javeed Aslam but he was not available both in his office and on phone.