Malik Qasim, a fifty-year-old bus driver with thirty years of experience, regularly drives a passenger bus from Mianwali to the Chowk-e-Azam area of Leh. During a recent trip on this road, a sharp stone hit one of the bus tires, causing it to puncture. Qasim tried to control the bus, but the second tire also burst while applying the brakes. The bus had slowed down by that time – ensuring the safety of all the passengers.
Due to this incident, Qasim changed two bus tires, costing him Rs130,000 rupees. He explains that he hadn’t earned enough money in the last six months to cover the expenses of the new tires.
Gulzar Ahmed Pathan, a transporter from Chowk-e-Azam, owns around two dozen buses that travel on the Mianwali-Muzaffargarh Road. He shares that every day, some of his vehicles encounter accidents. The road on this route has been in poor condition for the past ten years and is now undergoing a prolonged reconstruction. However, even though the road has not been fully repaired yet, the accidents are causing significant financial losses, amounting to lakhs of rupees.
This road is called the Mianwali Muzaffargarh Road or the MM Road. It's a significant route for traffic in several areas, including Muzaffargarh, Kot Addu, Leh, Bhakkar, and Mianwali. Numerous interconnecting link roads from these districts on the East Indus River are connected to MM Road.
MM Road serves as a crucial connection between Gilgit and Karachi. It has been used for a long time to link Multan and South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many people from Bhakkar and Layyah usually travel through this route to Chakwal, or the federal capital.
Until three years ago, the provincial road department managed this road. But in May 2020, it was given a new name, N135, and transferred to the National Highway Authority (NHA).
In the same year, the NHA announced the construction of two roads. The first is the 129 km Belksar Mianwali Road (N135), and the second is the 286 km long MM Road (N135). Both roads will be built as dual carriageways under Public Private Partnership.
However, the consultant said that completing the project under Public Private Partnership was not feasible. So, the NHA decided to rehabilitate the road from Bluxar to Muzaffargarh (via Mianwali).
The construction work on this road began in February last year, and they said it would be finished in one year. However, the road still needs to be completed, and there are no signs of it being done soon. The NHA has now given a new completion date of December 13.
Farhad Khan, the Manager of Fatehpur Toll Plaza on MM Road, says that before construction began, around 13,000 to 15,000 vehicles used to pass through there daily. But since the construction started, the daily number of vehicles has decreased to about 5,000, and many people now use other highways instead.
Since the road reconstruction began, the number of accidents has increased even though there is less traffic now. According to Mohammad Waseem, the spokesperson of Rescue 1122, there were 3700 traffic accidents in the Layyah district on this road in 2022. Of these accidents, 430 people died, and 40 thousand were injured.
In the first six months of this year, there have been 2206 accidents, resulting in 10,000 injuries and 250 deaths. Please note that these figures do not include hospital deaths during treatment.
The number of accidents has been increasing. As a result, people have started calling MM Road the 'killer road' and the 'bloody road'. The residents of Fatehpur have also held protests, urging the authorities to complete the road construction as soon as possible.
Shamsuddin, the admin manager of Sachal, a construction company working on a section of the road, explains that the work delay is because of insufficient funds. The company has received less than half the amount they need, so they can only work three days a week.
The project's initial estimate was Rs 13 billion 80 crore, but some changes were made later. The federal government covered 90 per cent of the total cost, and the NHA contributed 10 per cent.
Fazlullah Khan, the project director of NHA, explains that the estimated cost of reconstructing MM Road (286 km) is 12 billion 82 crore 80 lakh rupees. So far, they have paid six billion 61 crore 40 lakh rupees.
A civil engineer working on the project mentions that the road needs to be constructed according to the planned design (PC 1). He pointed out that there are areas of compression between Achlana Mor and Rahmatabad, and the usage of tar on the road is also inadequate.
NHA disagrees with these allegations, stating that the work on the road is proceeding according to the established standards. Nevertheless, they admit that errors may arise during the construction process, which are later corrected.
Bus driver Malik Jabbar shares that regardless of the speed of work on the road, the traffic needs a safe route. After stones were laid from Qaziabad to Fatehpur, the contractor vanished. Seeing the vehicle ahead or oncoming traffic becomes difficult during a dust storm.
"My car has been in three accidents in just a year. The road has become even more hazardous for motorcyclists."
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Sixteen-year-old Naseem Liaquat is an FSC student. She travels to Fatehpur College daily from Chak 312 TDA in Layyah by rickshaw (Ching Chi). She mentions that before the construction work on MM Road began, the rickshaw ride used to take 20 minutes. However, now it takes 45 minutes.
“Throughout the journey, a dust storm accompanies us. By the time we reach college, our faces and clothes become unrecognisable due to the dust. This road remains incomplete, and nobody waters it to control the dust.”
Ambulance driver Rana Muhammad Azam says he faces frequent traffic jams while transporting patients from rural areas on this road, putting the patients' lives at risk.
According to the office of the General Manager of NHA, most parts of the project have been completed. Completing the remaining work depends on the availability of funds, and if funds continue to flow, all sections of the road will be completed by December 31.
Published on 2 Aug 2023