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Cutting off Baltistan: Opposition leaders decry delay in work on Gilgit-Skardu Road

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GILGIT,HunzaNews, February 24th, 2016.: Opposition lawmakers slammed the delay in improving Gilgit-Skardu Road, which is the only route connecting Baltistan with Gilgit and rest of the country. These concerns were raised during the first day of the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly on Tuesday.

“There are reports tenders for upgradation have been cancelled,” Imran Nadeem, the lone Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker in the assembly, said during the session chaired by Speaker Fida Muhammad Nashad. Nadeem, who is from Baltistan, said the federal government was not interested in issues faced by the people of his area.

“The prime minister himself inaugurated the road-improvement project many times but it’s a mystery why work doesn’t actually start.” Nadeem said either National Highway Authority cheated the PM or the latter was cheating the people of Baltistan.

Later Nadeem walked out in protest, taking others with him. However, they returned after requests from the treasury bench.

“The road is of strategic importance,” said Rizwan Ali of Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen.

Why the delay?

Responding to the protesting lawmakers, Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman said the tender was cancelled to block massive kickbacks taking place.

“The project is being retendered so it is made transparent,” said the CM. “There were kickbacks worth more than Rs50 million; that’s why some elements are crying against reissuing the tender.”

Raja Jehanzeb of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said roads in Ghizer Valley were also in shambles and government had not paid any attention. Minister for Works Dr Muhammad Iqbal, responding to queries, said his ministry did not have funds for maintenance but vowed to work on the issue.

The 170-kilometre-long road is considered the lifeline of Baltistan, and was estimated to cost Rs44 billion, nearly twice the annual budget
of G-B.

Social issues

During the session, Rani Atiqa of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Kacho Imtiaz of MWM requested resolving the issue of teachers inducted under Social Action Program, a project designed to improve social indicators in primary education. “Teachers have once again gone on a strike, demanding regularisation of their services – we should support them,” one of them said.

The house also passed a resolution tabled by an MWM lawmaker, Salima Bibi, against child labour. While passing the resolution, the speaker asked Salima Bibi and the parliamentary law secretary, Advocate Aurangzeb Khan, to conduct a study on the causes of child labour and possible solutions. A report will be submitted in the house.

Deputy Speaker Jafarullah Khan tabled another resolution to revert special education to federal government. The resolution was deferred for a debate.

For green’s sake

Minister for Forests and Wildlife Abdul Wakeel blamed lawmakers for rapidly diminishing forest cover in G-B.

“Those responsible for deforestation are the ones sitting in this house,” Wakeel said, pointing to lawmakers, most of whom are members of his own party.

“If you stop your voters, supporters and relatives from chopping trees, I am sure we can make G-B green.” He added timber worth more than Rs4 million was seized in raids over the months in G-B, and was then auctioned.

Opposition leader Shah Baig retorted, saying, “The minister was involved in deforestation until yesterday and is now lecturing us on the issue.” Both Wakeel and Baig hail from Diamer Valley.

Their responses led to exchange of accusations, forcing the speaker
to intervene.

Published in The Express Tribune

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