In the absence of the City Police and the NH&MP, just who would accept responsibility for the security lapse on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway?
Over 10 days since the horrific incident of rape and robbery that occurred on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway (M11), in the Gujjarpura area, the responsibility for negligence in providing a timely response to the victim’s calls for help has not yet been fixed on any government agency. The National Highways and Motorway Police (NH&MP), the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and the City Police have all sought to distance themselves from it.
It is clear that the incident could have been averted if the law-enforcement agencies were there to provide security to those driving on the stretch.
The woman was robbed and raped on September 9 after she found herself stranded on M11 as her car ran out of fuel. She was waiting for help, having made several calls to the NH&MP, when two men attacked her.
Conflicting statements by City Police bosses and the NH&MP on the case have exposed a lack of coordination among the law-enforcement agencies.
The question arises as to why the government allowed opening the 91-kilometre M11 for public, in March this year, after the NH&MP had refused to take charge of its security and there was no one around except some FWO personnel to help the road users.
Talking to TNS, Mehmood Khokhar, an NH&MP spokesperson, says that neither M11 nor its 4-kilometre road link from Lahore falls under their jurisdiction.
“The construction of motorways as well as providing logistics and other facilities to the travellers — service stations, shops and the like, to deal with any emergency — is the responsibility of the FWO,” he says. “The FWO collects millions [of rupees] in tolls from various entry and exit points on the motorways every year. It also sublets service stations and shopping areas to private parties.”
According to Khokhar, if the government wishes to give a fresh link to a highway, the NH&MP has to be informed at least two years ahead of its formal opening. “Only when the required infrastructure is in place and essential logistics are taken care of, does the NH&MP assume charge of the security [of the motorway],” he adds. “This should explain why the charge of the security of the newly-built M11 was not accepted — because the logistics had not yet been provided for.”
A senior NH&MP officer says, on condition of anonymity: “We are already overburdened and face an acute shortage of staff. No fresh hiring has been made in a long time, despite our repeated requests to the government while the construction of M3 [Lahore–Abdul Hakeem Motorway] and M5 [Multan–Sukkur Motorway] has been going on.”
The question arises as to why the government allowed opening the 91-kilometre Lahore-Sialkot Motorway for public when it knew the NH&MP had refused to take charge of its security and there was no one except the FWO to provide cover to the road users.
He insists that negligence could only be blamed on the FWO whose staff was present close to the crime scene. “They could’ve reached the spot within a few minutes.”
NH&MP Inspector General Syed Kaleem Imam says the victim’s call was received at 2:01 am, whereupon she was told that the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway was not in their jurisdiction. Her call was directed to the FWO, but she didn’t get any assistance.
Imam is of the view that M11 is currently not their domain, “The NH&MP will be deployed there only once the resources are made available. As of now, we are calculating the financial cost of doing so which includes human resource and logistics equipment.”
A senior officer in the Lahore Police says, “In the absence of the NH&MP, it was the duty of the Gujjarpura Police to provide security to the travellers on the 4-kilometre road link near the toll plaza. It is unfortunate that it took a disgraceful incident to bring to our notice the lack of security and other issues on this unmanned stretch of the road. It is nothing but sheer negligence on the part of the security agencies.”
DIG Bilal Siddique Kamyana of the Special Protection Unit (SPU) of the Punjab Police, says that as many as 250 personnel of SPU and the Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP) have now been tasked to patrol the M11 until the National Highways and Motorway Police is engaged.
As far as the SPU is concerned, its units shall perform only static duty on the seven entry and exit points on M11.
According to Kamyana, the deployment took place following the instructions of the Punjab IG Inam Ghani. The deployment orders arrived in a memo dispatched to the Additional IG of Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP) and DIG Special Protection Unit (SPU) by the AIG (Operations).
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]