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Pakistanis Complain Of Bridge Toll To Private Contractor

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A man who built a bridge in northwestern Pakistan to replace one washed away by flooding is being criticized for charging pedestrians to use it, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

The bridge connecting the towns of Shabqadar and Tangi in the Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province was washed away by flashfloods that hit many parts of Pakistan in July-August 2010.

Local contractor Ahmad Zeb was given an official contract to construct the bridge, but people have complained that in addition to charging cars and other vehicles to cross the bridge he is also forcing pedestrians to pay a toll.

Charsadda District Coordination Officer Ajmal Khan told Radio Mashaal that he has ordered the contractor to stop charging fees from locals for crossing the bridge.

"I have already given orders in writing and canceled the no-objection certificate (NOC) of the contractor based on [the people's] complaints," Ajmal Khan said.

But Zeb said he still has a NOC and the collection of tolls for using the bridge is legal.

"We are charging motorbike owners 10 rupees and car owners 20 rupees" to cross the bridge," Ajmal Khan said. "I spent around 700,000 rupees (about $8,000) on the construction of the bridge and now I am recovering my investment in this way."

Zeb denied he was charging pedestrians to use the bridge.

But Muhammad Shahid, a college student, told Radio Mashaal that men working at the bridge charged him five rupees to cross it.

"They charge us five rupees per head to cross the bridge from each side daily," Shahid said. "We [students] have around 50 to 60 rupees in pocket money. We spend 15 rupees as route fare, pay 10 rupees to the [bridge] contractor, and are left with nothing for some recreation."

Bridges in Pakistan are usually constructed by the government and then leased out to private companies to collect tolls.