At a meeting, Commissioner Malakand Division at his office reviewed the operation of Lowari Tunnel and progress on the construction of the its approach roads.
A representative of National Highway Authority (NHA) told the meeting that the NHA was keen to operationalize the tunnel round the clock but there were certain hazards which warranted necessary break within the operational hours.
He said almost 600 vehicles daily passed through the tunnel which emit smoke and gases such as methane, carbon monoxide and unburnt fuel etc.
These gases and unburnt fuel are not only injurious to human lives but can also lead to ignition.
He said there were chances of sudden fire incidents inside the tunnel due to high pressure and temperature if the same were not ejected through jet engine run exhausts.
The schedule of break is to secure safety of human lives and property and minimize the risk, he added.
The NHA official also referred to accidents occurred inside tunnels in different parts of the world and added that the existing relaxation allowing the tunnel to ply through the tunnel was against the international code of conduct and laws.
The meeting was informed by the NHA representative that though civil work on the tunnel was fully complete, about 18 components of electrical and mechanical systems were to be installed inside the tunnel.
The electro-mechanical work includes lightning, traffic control through signal management inside the tunnel, installation of exhaust system for removal of highly poisonous gases such as nitrogenous oxcide, carbon monoxide, dioxide and highly inflammable methane gas.
These gases are produced due to fuel burning and emission of vehicles. Installation of electro-mechanical system will cost almost Rs10 billion.
It is high tech work which was tendered to international firms who were reluctant to participate in it due to the unfriendly environment for foreigners. Several advertisements were published in international magazines costing more than seventy lack rupees.
Jet fans equal to that of a Boeing plane would be installed in the tunnel. In the absence of jet fans used for the removal of these toxic gases, operation of the tunnel is against international safety standards and norms, hence illegal. But he assured the commissioner that the NHA was committed to completing the work at the earliest.
“Since the commuters are unaware and uneducated about the tunnel standard operating procedures (SOPs), therefore, they feel discomfort about these intervals,” the official added.
He said that these matters were also placed before the chief justice of Pakistan after he took suo motu notice of the suffering of the commuters from Chitral. “The chief justice was kind enough and has shown satisfaction over the arrangements,” he maintained.
Summing up the meeting, the commissioner said that Chitral was a backward area, therefore, all efforts should be taken to facilitate its residents with sincerity and dedication which will also promote business activities in the area. He said that all departments concerned should work with dedication to complete the tunnel project without any further delay.
The commissioner issued directions that the access roads of the tunnel should be dressed, compacted and made vehicle worthy to facilitate the commuters. The NHA shall report compliance and shall sponsor seminars both in Chitral and Dir.
The representatives of transporters, traders, goods forwarding agencies and owners of filling stations as well as elected public representatives and general public may be invited to these seminars to create awareness about SOPs of the tunnel.
A meeting should also be arranged with ulema so that they could educate the general public regarding the SOPs of the tunnel, said the commissioner.