PAKISTAN: AHRC demands judicial inquiry into collapse of a bridge constructed by an organization of army which took the lives of more than 10 persons

A newly constructed bridge erected by a military organization collapsed in Karachi on September 1, 2007, taking the lives . There is still no confirmation of how many people and vehicles may be trapped inside the debris. The government of Pakistan, including the provincial government of Sindh and the concerned ministries had yet not constituted any commission of inquiry to probe the cause of the collapse of bridge which inaugurated by General Musharraf just 25 days before the accident. To-date there has been no information issued by the government and no responsible party has been arrested. The Minister of Communications reported to the media that he had pointed out some faults of the said bridge one year ago but was not taken seriously.

According to the information received from different sources, the Shershah Bridge of the Northern bypass project was constructed by a military organization, National Logistic Cell (NLC), which does not have any past experience in the construction of bridges. The NLC was associated with the Pakistan army, communication system which was mainly used during Afghan war, particularly in the period of 1980’s for supplying goods, arms and ammunition to the Afghan war lords. The USA media accused the NLC of transporting narcotics during that period.

The contract to construct the Shershah Bridge was awarded to the NLC without any formal bidding tender by the National Highway Authority (NHA), an army run authority which is generally headed by a serving General of Pakistan Army. This bridge is located at a very important commercial and industrial junction of the city and was supposed to ease the traffic problem of the Karachi, the country’s largest industrial and trade centre.

The Northern Bypass project was planned in 1975 to cater to the heavy port bound traffic outside the city’s main roads, but in the late 70s the military government stopped the project. It was again started on the instructions of different donor agencies that were responsible for the construction of the Layari Expressway, a highway road project in the heart of the city. Construction of Northern Bypass was started in April 2002, with an allocated cost of Rupees One Billion Eighty Crores (US$30,000,000.) and was to be completed with in two years, that is to say the middle of 2004.

As it stands now the project has taken five years and half of it is yet to be completed. The costs have almost doubled to an estimated Rupees three billion and fifty crores (US$58,400,000) and this may rise further as it is likely that the project will take another three years. Originally the project called for the construction of eight lane roads, but NHA reduced it to four lanes on its own without any consultation with or sanction from the cabinet, even then cost escalated to almost double the original estimate.

The four organizations of the Pakistan Army, the National Highway Authority (NHA), the Frontier Works organization (FWO) and the National Logistic Cell (NLC) are busy constructing every road and bridge throughout the country without any transparency or accountably by any public institution, including the National Assembly and the Senate. It is generally alleged that officers of the mentioned organizations received kick backs/commissions in the project to enhance its cost and that is why the military government and concerned ministers are avoiding the constitution of an inquiry into the collapse of the Shershah bridge.

The bridge collapsed when a trawler carrying 4000 tons of cement was passing over it whereas bridge was designed to carry 200,000 metric tons of with a lifespan of 50 years. According to NGOs monitoring the mega construction projects in the country the main reason for delaying an inquiry involves the of commission of Rupees one billion, which is allegedly to have been taken by the military officers of the above mentioned organizations.

There is a similar case with another project of the Lyari Express Way (LEW) which was started in year 2002 and was to be constructed in mid of the June 2004 with a cost of Rupees three billion. Again, after the passing of five years only fifty percent of its work is completed at a cost of Rupees 18 Billion, about six times higher than its original cost.

The NHA and FWO, the organizations affiliated to Pakistan Army, are responsible to construct this project. It is generally said that the LEW and Northern Bypass are “personal projects’ of General Musharraf, therefore the National Assembly and Senate are not allowed to discuss these projects.

Two newly constructed bridges of the LEW are already showing signs of cracks and tilting but the authorities have not taken any action. The LEW project calls for 24 bridges on both banks of a river out of which only 12 bridges have been constructed after five years; it is estimated that it will take another five years for the remaining 12 bridges. This project was also inaugurated by General Musharraf, who claimed at the time of inauguration that he was providing the ‘best gift’ to the citizens of Pakistan. This project is responsible for the displacement of 300,000 persons.

Another project, the ‘Costal High way’ in the southern province of Balochistan, was also inaugurated by General Musharraf and during the rainy season parts of it are swept away. Since 2005 the Coastal highway has been broken in three places. During the rains of June and July 2000, an 18 kilometer part of the ‘coastal highway’ was swept away taking the lives of four persons. This project was also constructed by the NHA and FWO, which are headed by serving military Generals.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) shows its deep concern at the collapse of the bridge on Northern Bypass which took the lives of 10 people and also towards the pathetic attitude of the military government of Pakistan for not constituting an inquiry in to the matter. There is also for great concern that military organizations are taking part in developing these mega projects, seemingly without any qualifications for such work. So many lives have been lost and thousands of people displaced by the different military organisations who have involved themselves in commercial activities and land grabbing.

The AHRC demands an immediate judicial inquiry by the higher court Judge into the incident of the collapse of the bridge and the death of 10 persons, awarding of the contract of mega projects to army affiliated organizations without the formality of bidding, the escalation of prices without any transparent method, the collapse of different projects which were constructed by army affiliated organizations, the arrest of the responsible officers of the project, inquiry of kickbacks in the mega projects. Compensation must immediately be paid to the grieving families.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-215-2007
Countries : Pakistan,