LAHORE - The ambitious Punjab government project ‘Ashiana’ for providing low cost houses to the poor is set to be handled by the Turkish construction company, Toki.

Ashiana Housing project started in the last tenure of the PML-N Punjab government has been on the hold over the last more than one year despite huge spending on its consultancy, feasibility, technical aspects, acquirement of land and infrastructure. Sources say no actual headway has been made in the developing houses under this project since Chairman of the Project MPA Sheikh Allauddin had resigned in March 2014 apparently on personal grounds.

The government gives reasons of its focus on the energy production projects for halt in the completion of this billion rupees Ashiana project, which is aimed at providing shelter to thousands of poor people at affordable price within four years from 2012. But that justification seems flimsy in the face of Rs 165billion Metro Train project which is underway in presence of energy crisis.

Ashiana had hit snags in mid-2014 when huge discrepancies in the construction work of the houses, technical aspect and provision of facilities were reported to the chief minister who in turn had set up a two-member probe team to fathom the truth. Whether the probe has been completed or still going on is anybody’s guess only, the sources say.

The chief minister has been apprised of the initial findings which show little scope for continuing the Ashiana project with same set of technical staff. In order to carry on the project on even a larger scale, the chief minister, during his recent visit to Turkey on his way back home from UK visit, met the Turkish president and shared views on seeking help of the renowned Turkish company, Housing Development Authority (Toki) for providing technical, financial, managerial and business model. Turkey gave a quick response and sent a high level delegation of the company.

An agreement was signed between the Punjab government and the Turkish company last days to help the government construct 50,000 houses in two years in the province. The Turkish company, the sources say, will provide assistance in completion of the houses under Ashiana in addition to developing the new houses that will also be made a part of the ongoing project. By that, the Ashiana project would come under the umbrella of Toki.

Toki has an established reputation of providing consultancy for highly affordable houses for the poor segment. The houses’ model has been copied in a number of countries.

Over the last 13 years, this company has built 1.7 million houses in Turkey while in the next five years it is going to construct another 0.5 million, mainly in the urban localities of its motherland.

Source say in light of the letter of intent, discussions are on to work out nitty gritty of building 50,000 houses which will be completed in two phases in two years. Sources say a unique feature of this venture is transfer of technology to Punjab to enable it carry on the business on its own spreading the scope of constructing low cost houses across the country.

The Punjab government which visualizes need of 13million houses in the 100-million population province by the year 2025 in views of 51 per cent urban population in next decade, also intends to engage Toki in other construction projects and high rise buildings.

Ashiana Housing Scheme under public private partnership, was initially introduced in Lahore and later its scope was expanded to Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Faisalabad, Kasur and Sahiwal, where the project is at different stages of completion. The houses under the project were to measure three and five marlas with affordable purchase price of Rs13lakh to Rs 17lakh.

In Lahore after completion of Ashiana Quaid, the second phase Ashiana Iqbal was announced for the construction of 10,000 houses with facilities of colleges and universities, hospitals, parks and ground etc. Much work remains to be done to complete the second phase. Similarly in April last, only 104 houses were handed over to the people through balloting in Ashiana Sahiwal and Faisalabad.