All project packages under Rs 5b to avoid federal govt scrutiny
The Punjab government is dividing the Bus Rapid Transit System into several packages only to avoid the scrutiny of the project in the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) under the federal government, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Sources on good authority revealed that as per rules, any project exceeding Rs 2 billion goes to the Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP) headed by the chairman of the provincial Planning and Development (P&D) Department, while any project exceeding Rs 5 billion is supposed to under to the ECNEC, the forum under the federal government which scrutinises the project. However, the cost of the BRTS as per current estimates crosses Rs 28 billion, but the high-ups have broken it up into 10 packages with an equal number of separate PC-I for each package to keep the cost of each package below Rs 5 billion only to avoid taking it to ECNEC. A senior official from the Finance Department said the PDWP is a recommendatory body which approves schemes exceeding Rs 2b, while ECNEC is the forum for approval of schemes exceeding Rs 5b. Headed by the federal finance minister, the body is powerful enough to halt any project by not giving approval to it.
“The province cannot approve a scheme halted by ECNEC. Besides the finance department, which seconds the schemes approved by the PDWP, cannot give a go-head to schemes not approved by the PDWP,” an official added.
An official on the condition of anonymity revealed that not even a single package costs more than Rs 5 billion, while many of these are more than Rs 4 billion. This is also the reason the government has been increasing the packages every time it is exceeding the bar of Rs 5 billion.
“The high-ups have been playing around with the rules because they will have to present the rationale of the project in the federal government, which would have been very difficult for a project whose feasibility has not been conducted before initiating it at all,” the official said.
The project director of the BRTS refused to talk about any aspect of the project at all. However, another official working on the project, on the condition of anonymity, said the rules and regulations only cause delays and hurdles in the completion of projects, citing examples of the Kala Bagh dam. “We have done our homework and we are doing the project in good faith,” he added.
Lahore’s largest project, without a feasibility report
The BRTS has become a constantly evolving, fund-eating behemoth only because the Punjab government has initiated work on the project without the most basic and essential component: conducting a feasibility of the project, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Officials revealed that the cost of the most ambitious project of the Punjab government has been constantly increasing only because a proper feasibility was not conducted as is done before the government starts any project.
Giving a detailed account of the changes the project has undergone so far, a senior official said the project initially consisted of five packages but has now 10 packages, besides new underpasses and flyovers and cuts are also being proposed even to date causing a constant increase in the cost only because of a lack of feasibility.
“Initially the Ravi Bridge was to be widened but now a new bridge will be constructed. Similarly, an underpass has been proposed for Model Town, with various sections uplifted from at grade to elevated sections causing massive increase in costs. Moreover, various packages were merged and their costs revised after changes on ground. And it does not even stop here; more underpasses have been proposed as the one for the Lahore General Hospital which will yet again increase the cost,” a senior official told on the condition of anonymity.
Officials in the transport department supervising the project claim that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has completed a feasibility study on the Ferozepur Road and hence the impression was not credible. However, another official revealed that JICA conducted the study for the Rail Road project initiated by Pervaiz Elahi’s government, while for BRTS a parallel feasibility was being conducted by a Turkish firm Ulasim.
The BRT track measures 30km from Gajju Matta to Shahdara and has 31 stations on the MBS track. The system features E-ticketing, signal prioritizing for MBS buses, escalators for elderly and articulated buses which shall be plied with a two minute interval.
The initial cost of the project started from around Rs 15 billion and now is more than Rs 28 billion, as the number of packages increase from the initial five to 10. The Package 1 starts from Youhanaabad ends at Kalma Chowk, NLC contractor, length 10km, costs Rs 4.2 billion; Package 2 is Kalma Chowk to Qartaba Chowk (Qaddafi stadium onwards is elevated), length 4.9 km at the cost of Rs 4.7 billion and contractors are Maaksons, Al-buraq and SKB; Package 3 is Qartaba Chowk to MAO college length 2.51km for Rs 4.1 billion and Reliance is the contractor; Package 4 starts from MAO college to Bhatti Chowk at Rs 3.1 billion for a length of 2.3km elevated section being completed by NLC; Package 5 and 6 have been merged into one and start from Taxali Chowk to Shahdara Mor at Rs 3.2 billion for 3.7km being completed by Maaksons; Package 7 is an additional bridge along Lahore bridge at the cost of Rs 850 million done by NLC; Package 8 is Gajju Matta to Youhanabaad for Rs 3.2 billion for 2.3km done by Maaksons; Package 9 is erection of escalators and platform screen doors at Rs 2.3 billion; while Package 10 construction of bus depot on southern side at Rs 1.3 billion done by Server & Company; from Shahdra Mor to North depot the 2.8 km are going to cost another Rs 3 billion.
Another senior official said the Turkish firm which introduced the project had proposed the entire project at grade and it demanded parking stations at various places. At this point, the Nespak, which is still the consultant on the entire project, took over and changed a major part of the project from on ground to elevation.
No senior official from Nespak was available for comments, while TEPA chief engineer Saeed Akhtar and BRTS Project Director Sabtain Fazl-e-Haleem refused to talk about the project.
Punjab govt graciously pays for Turkey’s share also
The ‘love’ Turkey has for Punjab could not bear fruits since Punjab government is also going to have to fund the Turkish component of the Bus Rapid Transit System, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The government, which had has been proudly showing its credentials for bringing in help from the Turks for the BRTS project, has now revealed in the project details that Turkish companies which have been working on the project have charged heavily for their work.
Ulasim the company which shared the concept of the BRTS and proposed an initial design has charged Rs 70 million. Moreover, the gift of Turkish buses as announced for the project by Istanbol Mayor Kadir Tobpas during his visit were left-hand drive, outdated and are not coming. This has led the government to sign an agreement with another Turkish firm Platform, which will provide not only the buses, but also bear the travelling expenses. The government signed this agreement during the chief minister’s recent visit to Turkey.
Sharing the details of the agreement, a senior official on good authority revealed the government has agreed to pay ‘Platform’ Rs 365 per kilometer for each bus for a total of 45 buses for a period of eight years. Moreover, the government will have to pay for at least 70,000km per annum to Platform, which will provide operation and maintenance, including the buses, staff, travelling expenses and more for the said time. The government will collect the fare, and at the end of eight years, the operation will be handed over to the government.
“At this rate the government will pay the firm more than Rs 1 billion every year,” the official added.
CM’s Advisor on Transport Khwaja Hassan told Pakistan Today that no local investor or businessman was interested to invest in the BRTS when the government initiated the project. “We should appreciate the fact that the Turkish firms have not only shown their interest but have invested in our province where not even our local investors wanted to put in their bets,” he added.