Project to end Chakwal’s water shortage remains stalled

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CHAKWAL: The Punjab government has not yet released funding for a water supply scheme for Chakwal city that was approved two years ago.

The city has been facing an acute shortage of water for the last few years, but according to official documents the Planning and Development Board (P&D) has refused to release funding for the water supply scheme mega project on the grounds that the cost estimate for the scheme was not prepared according to the board’s updated guidelines.

According to an official, Chakwal city requires nine cusecs of water daily, but only receives three, which means the “city is facing an immense water shortage”.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif during his election campaign visit to Chakwal in May 2013, promised the people of Chakwal that if elected he would solve the problem of drinking water.

His party swept the polls in the Chakwal district and secured all six seats – two in the National Assembly and four in the Punjab Assembly – but it took the chief minister two years to approve a water supply scheme for the city. Mr Sharif sanctioned the scheme in April 2015, to be completed by 2018 at a cost of Rs572.1 million.

According to plan outlined in documents available with Dawn, two cusecs of water were to be fetched from Khai Dam while four cusecs were to be collected through the installation of 16 tube wells in the Bhoun and Khai villages. Villagers in these areas resisted the plan to install these tube wells, believing that they would render the villages dry by sucking out underground water. The villagers filed a writ petition before the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi Bench, and the court directed the Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) to reconsider the scheme.

During the legal battle between the PHED and the villagers, the former continued to work on acquiring two cusecs of water from Khai Dam.

The PHED reconsidered the scheme after the court order and decided to collect four cusecs of water from the Dharabi Dam instead of installing tube wells, but the proposal drew greater costs due to the great distance between Dharabi Dam and Bhoun village. The cost reached Rs957.7 million, compared to the approved cost of Rs572.1 million.

The PHED sent its revised and escalated estimate to the P&D, which returned the proposal with the objection that it had not been prepared according to the updated guidelines.

On Sept 3, the PHED secretary wrote a letter – a copy of which is available with Dawn – in which he asked the chief minister to approve the revised scheme amounting to Rs957.7 million.

“During the current financial year only Rs10 million has been allocated which is highly inadequate. Additional funds are required for partial completion and for the benefit of the inhabitants of Chakwal city with the facility of clean drinking water,” the letter stated. So far, no action has been taken on the request.

According to the official Rs170 million have been spent on the project thus far. “If Rs150 million more is released Chakwal city could get two cusecs water from Khai Dam, and with the provision of two cusecs the drinking water problem could be eased,” the official told Dawn.

“Unfortunately, only Rs10 million have been released for the current financial year, through which nothing can be done.”

The mega project has also put at stake MPA Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan, his wife MNA Iffat Liaquat Ali Khan and their son Chaudhry Haider Sultan. Since 1985, Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan has remained loyal to the Sharifs and despite becoming an MPA six times he has not been able to bring any big project to Chakwal.

When Shahbaz Sharif approved the water supply scheme for Chakwal in 2015, Chaudhry Haider Sultan claimed on social media that they had achieved a mega project for Chakwal, but it appears the project will be incomplete by the 2018 elections.

MNA Iffat Liaquat said: “We are trying our best to get funds released for the project as we are aware of the problems of the citizens.” She claimed Rs150 million would be released soon.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2016

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