The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the delay in completion of the construction of New Benazir Bhutto International Airport and the resultant escalation in the cost of the project.

“It is alarming to learn that the cost of the project had gone skyrocketing from Rs 35 billion to Rs 73 billion owing to the delay in completion of the project that was initially to be finished by December 2011,” said the Chief Justice.

Justice Chaudhry said it is fit case of criminal negligence by the officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry and Justice Gulzar Ahmed was hearing a petition filed by Advocate Asif Fasihuddin Khan Wardag who had challenged the appointment of Khalid Chaudhry as DG CAA and delay in the project.

Appearing before the court, DG CAA Air Marshal (Retd) Khalid Chaudhry admitted that it was fault of his department to cause delay but said he was only appointed in November last year to supervise the project.

The airport was initiated in 2007 and was to be completed in 2011 but there is no sign of its completion in near future, said the petitioner, adding the cost could further escalate to Rs 90 billion.

Challenging the appointment of Chaudhry as DG CAA, the petitioner claimed the DG had no qualification of being engineer and had no experience of flying commercial planes after getting retired from Pakistan Air Force.

The bench instead of focusing on the point of appointment of DG CAA took interest in the delay in the completion of the project.

Briefing the bench DG Chaudhry said an inquiry held by Lt Gen (Retd) Shahid Niaz on the orders of the ministry of defence had held technical assistant contractor of the project and Louis Berger Group of Consultation as consultant responsible for the delay.

Further explaining the delay Khalid Chaudhry said that consultants had delayed in preparing drawings and designs to provide to the contractors for finishing the construction work. He informed the bench that that all other facilities such as airstrip, landing site, fuel hydrants, complete boundary wall, air traffic controllers, taxi traces and water supply pipelines had been completed at the cost of Rs 31 billion.

The DG CAA said the project of construction of passenger terminal worth Rs 20 billion was awaited and without its completion the airport could not start functioning.

Elaborating the causes of the delay, the DG for the surprise of the court said that the consultant Louis Berger, an American firm, was hired when it did not have the required qualification. The company had only three engineers in Pakistan and the individuals are not qualified engineers even, Khalid Chaudhry added.

He further explained that there were 17 different packages of the project given to as many as 15 contractors and there had been inter-face nightmare among the contractors. They complained against one another for hindering their work.

Deferring the hearing for two weeks, the bench directed the DG CAA to file complete reply about his appointment and the inquiry report by Gen Shahid Niaz regarding delay in the completion of the project.