No light at the end of Lowari Tunnel?

ISLAMABAD, Oct 13: Dwindling funds are also dwindling the hope for the completion of the strategically important Lowari Tunnel project which is due to be ready and functional in 2017. The project’s estimated cost of Rs18 billion may reach Rs30 billion by the end of its completion due to the country’s precarious national economic conditions, warned eminent economist Dr Hassan Askari. According to officials in the Ministry of Communication, the cost has already been estimated to be Rs23 billion.

Due to its geographical situation, Chitral remains totally cut off from the rest of the country for over five months every winter due to heavy snowfall on the 10,200-feet-high Lowari Tunnel. During that time, the people of Chitral have to travel to Afghanistan to access Pakistan as the Lowari Pass is the only land route connecting the district to other parts of the country. Constant delay in the completion of the project has added to the suffering of the people, particularly in winter when the prices of essential commodities skyrocket.

The Lowari Tunnel is situated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, connecting Dir and Chitral valley. After its completion, the present 14-hour drive from Chitral to Peshawar will be reduced by 50 percent, experts say. The project was planned to be constructed in two phases. In the first phase, the tunnel was to be constructed with access roads, while a railway track was to be laid in the second phase. But the then government decided to change its design from a rail tunnel to a road network in 2009. Meanwhile, due to the erratic flow of funds, foreign consultants have left the project because they were not paid on time, it was reported.

Meanwhile, the security concerns facing the engineers of Austrian consultancy firm is also contributing to the delay in the project’s completion. However, National Highway Authority (NHA) Chairman Maroof Afzal said the federal government has addressed the security issues of the consultants as well as the engineers of the Korean contractors who are executing the project since 2006. Afzal also rejected the notion that many foreign consultants have left the project due to the non-payment of their dues.

“The numbers of foreign consultants was reduced by the NHA itself as part of the execution strategy,” he explained. However, the chairman admitted that the NHA had not been able to clear the amount payable to the Korean contractor and Austrian consultants since long. The federal government has allocated Rs1 billion in the current budget for the Lowari Tunnel project, but the K-P Assembly considered the amount insufficient.

The assembly asked the federal government to increase the amount to Rs4 billion. In June this year, MNA Shahzada Iftikharuddin said that Chitral being the largest district of KP, comprising 20 per cent of the province’s landmass, had not been given its due right.–Express Tribune

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