By: Fakhar Alam
BATTAGRAM, Sep 3 (APP): Soon after Allai received its maiden sun rays right from the top of Sukai Sir Mountain peak in Battagram district, Israr Ahmad hurried to book a place in the jam-packed cable car to reach his school well in time after crossing the wide-stretched Allai River at a height of 600 meters from the sea level.
Passionate about his studies, the eleven-year-old Israr was often seen off by his mother with a motherly kiss on his forehead before going towards the other side of the river through a cable car being the only transportation source to cross the river.
“August 22 was the dreadful day of my life when the cable car in which we were being transported to school along with my friends including Irfan, Niaz Muhammad, Rizwan and Sher Nawaz, suddenly hung in the middle of Allai River over 600 feet height due to breakage of three out of four of its cables,” Israr Ahmad, a student of Government High School at Batungi Pashto told APP.
“We were foreseeing a certain death, but I held my nerves in that testing time and kept on praying for our safety. Teacher Gul Faraz kept motivating us to remain calm and patient, saying God is the greatest protector,” he said.
“Cable cars are the cheapest and time-saving source of transportation in our area to reach schools. It takes only 30 minutes to reach the other side of the river, as compared to 90 minutes on bumpy and rocky roads.”
After the August 22 terrible incident, some of my classmates have stopped using cable cars and instead are traveling through bumpy roads thus often getting late for school,” said Israr.
Professor Dr Muhammad Naeem, Economics Department of the University of Swabi said cable cars were the cheapest source of transportation for students to reach their schools in the mountainous areas of Shangla, Battagram, Kohistan, Swat, Chitral, Dir, Torghar and Buner districts due to poor road infrastructure and shortage of educational institutes.
He said it was among the major reasons why out-of-schools of children had swelled to a record 22.8 million in Pakistan including 4.7 million aged 5-16 years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The number of out-of-school children and drop-out ratio in these districts were high as compared to other districts of the province due to shortage of schools especially of girls and poor road infrastructure,” he said.
Referring to the BISP survey 2021, Dr Naeem said the percentage of out-of-school children was reported at 77 percent in Palas Kolai district, 70pc in Upper Kohistan, 69 percent in Lower Kohistan and 61 percent in Torghar.
Terming illiteracy as the root cause of poverty and the shabby economy, Dr Naeem said it was a matter of great concern that the number of such children had increased to 55 percent in Shangla and 51 percent in Battagram districts.
He feared an increase in student drop out ratio in the mountainous areas of these districts after the August 22 cable car incident keeping in view its psychological effects on students and parents who were using cable cars as the mode of transportation.
Syed Hammad Haider, Additional Deputy Commissioner Battagram said directives were issued to all cable cars/chairlift operators to maintain the highest standards and regularly examine their cable cars and cables before transportation to avoid mishaps.
An inspection and safety audit of all cable cars installed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa especially in the above-mentioned districts was ordered by the government after the Battagram incident.
He said cable cars were in practice worldwide but their standards were examined on a monthly and yearly basis.
Syed Hammad said all the cable cars and chairlifts being used for commercial, domestic or tourism purposes would be examined in Battagram, and those not meeting standards would be banned after imposition of heavy fines.
He said Assistant Commissioners had been directed to check and review the design, capacity and safety measures of all cable cars and chairlifts at Batagram and submit reports within a week.
Besides Allai cable car incident, the trapping of three persons in a cable car at Koragh Valley in Upper Chitral who were later rescued has necessitated a complete inspection and audit of all cable cars and chairlift services in Khyber Pakthunkhwa besides imposing a ban on those providing poor services.
Gulzar Khan, a cable car owner, said at least two to five million rupees were required for the establishment of a safe and well-mechanized cable car service.
He said closure of cable car service was no solution to the problem rather proper training to its executors, monitoring and repair of cables were imperative for transportation between steep hills and valleys.
Omair Khattak, General Manager Investment, Tourism Department said the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had planned to construct a state-of-the-art cable car service between Dir Upper and Lower Chitral.
“The proposed Kumrat Dir Upper and Madaklasht Lower Chitral cable car service, to be constructed with an estimated cost of USD 200 million and with the assistance of World Bank, would carry 5280 km height with facilities of a base station at Kumrat and Madaklasht.
Omair said the feasibility study of the mega project was started and work on the project would be completed in eight to 10 years.
He said the Chitral-Dir cable car upon completion would attract over one million tourists per year to Malakand division having a positive impact on KP’s economy.
APP/fam/ati (APP Feature Service)