2019 Had No Surprises In Karachi’s Transport Projects: Sindh Govt Achieved Nothing Again

In the transport-starved Karachi, 2019 was not a surprising year as like all the previous years since 2009, when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came into power in Sindh, not a single mega transport project for Karachi saw the light of day in the outgoing year.

Here are the details of the bureaucratic red tape and Sindh government’s apathy that neither did let the ongoing mega transport projects be completed nor did let the approved ones be started.

Green Line

Karachi’s dream of having a mass transit system inched nearer, for the first time in recent years, in February 2016, when then prime minister Nawaz Sharif laid down the foundation of the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which was supposed to be running in the city by April 2017.

Much to the disappointment of the citizens, three years down the line, the structure of the 18.4-kilometre (km)-long track of the Green Line BRT, of which 11.7 km is elevated and 7.7 km on ground, from Surjani Town till Gurumandir is complete but there are no buses to ply on the route.

The initial estimated worth of the project was Rs16 billion, funded by then federal government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) through a company, the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited, particularly formed to look after the affairs of the Green Line project.

However, the company’s scope was later expanded to cover all the federally-funded construction projects of the entire province and it was renamed Sindh Infrastructure Development Company Limited (SIDCL).

When initially proposed, the Green Line bus service project was supposed to connect Surjani Town and Gurumandir but in 2017, it was decided to extend the line from Gurumandir till Numaish and then all the way up to the Merewether Tower.

As the federal government had undertaken the construction of the BRT’s track, the Sindh government was supposed to procure buses and operate it, which it has miserably failed to do. It is a sad tale of multiple agreements reached with local and foreign companies producing no results.

In 2016, the Sindh government inked a deal with a Turkish company, Al-Buraq International (pvt) Limited, to procure buses for the Green Line. As it failed, a year later in 2017, the provincial government signed another agreement with a Lahore-based company, Crown Transport, which met the same fate.

After the 2018 general elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) formed the federal government while the Pakistan Peoples Party retained Sindh. After coming into power, the PTI-led federal government decided in November 2018 to procure the buses and operate the Green Line BRT itself for a few years, before handing it over to the provincial

government under a public private partnership mode with the assistance of the World Bank.

As far as developments related to the Green Line BRT in the outgoing year are concerned, a meeting was held in March in which the SIDCL put forward a proposal for the BRT operations before the federal government, which was accepted. On April 19, the same proposal was also approved in a board meeting of the SIDCL.

The approved project’s PC-1 was submitted to the federal government’s planning division department. Likewise, the World Bank, which has been engaged in the BRT, was asked to prepare the request for proposal (RFP).

The interested parties were asked to submit their proposals for the procurement of buses under the public private partnership as the SIDCL wanted to hire an operator who would bring buses and run them for a certain period.

If this all would have went well, the BRT operations still would not have started before February 2020, as the minimum time for the manufacturing of a bus is six months.

Later, it was revealed that the SIDCL’s plan also failed. An official of the company confirmed that the federal government will now run the buses on its own. Once the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approves the project, the official said on condition of anonymity, the company will start a fresh procurement process which will take three to four months. As for the manufacturing of buses, the official said it would take another six months at least, due to which there is only a slight chance that the Green Line BRT would start functioning by the end of 2020.

Orange Line

The Orange Line BRT project, which was later named after philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, can be the most glaring example of the Sindh government’s apathy towards the transport woes of Karachi.

The line is mere 3.9 km long connecting Orangi Town’s Town Municipal Administration (TMA) ground with the Board Office in Nazimabad. The Sindh government started its construction in 2016 just three months after the Green Line project was initiated by the federal government. However, in spite of having a very short length in comparison to the Green Line’s route, the construction of the Orange Line BRT’s track has not been completed yet.

Provincial government officials have always blamed the presence of unmarked underground utility infrastructure such as water, sewerage, power, telephone and gas lines for the delay in the construction. The same issue, however, was faced by the SIDCL during the construction of the Green Line track, which is over five times larger in length, but the SIDCL still managed to get Green Line’s route completed much before the Orange Line.

An official of the Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA), on condition of anonymity, told The News that the cost of the project increased manifold due to “unprecedented delays in the project”.

The tenders for the project were awarded when the Karachi Mass Transit Cell (KMTC) was under the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) before it was transferred to the SMTA. The official said the Orange Line project suffered due to poor coordination and there are slim chances that the project’s construction will be completed by even March 2020.

As for the procurement of buses for the Orange Line, the official shared that the Sindh government is yet decide whether it will procure Orange Line’s buses along with the federal government when the latter will procure buses for the Green Line or it will purchase the buses separately.

The project’s prospects of getting functional by the end of 2020 are quite bleak.

Yellow Line

The 21-km-long Yellow Line BRT to join Dawood Chowrangi in Landhi and Numaish through Shahrah-e-Quaideen was first conceived under the public private partnership mode when a Chinese company, China Urban Elected Company (CUEC), showed its interest in the project and was later issued the tender.

The Sindh government was initially hopeful about having the project kicked off by January 2015 and its operations started by the end of 2016. However, the concession agreement, which is a negotiated contract between a company and a government that gives the company the right to operate a specific business within the government’s jurisdiction subject to certain conditions, could not be signed. The reason for this, according to one of the SMTA’s officials, was that the CUEC failed to bring in the required funds for the project.

Now with the collaboration of the World Bank, the project has once again been revived. The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) and Ecnec have also formally approved the Yellow Line BRT. The project’s total cost will be $438.9 million, of which $382.4 million will be World Bank’s equity, $19 million will be arranged by the Sindh government, while the private sector will be pouring in $37.5 million.

The project’s concept design has already been carried out by the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK). For a detailed design, a fresh consultant will be hired and the construction work will not start before the middle or end of 2021, if all goes according to the plan.

Red Line

The Red Line BRT was first reflected in the Sindh government’s Annual Development Program (ADP) of 2015-16, in which 85 per cent of funds for the project were to be funded by a Chinese loan and 15 per cent by the provincial government.

However, things changed and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was involved in the project. According to the 2016-17 ADP, the Red Line BRT was to be partially funded by the ADB.

As of now, the Sindh government is boasting of the claim that the Red Line BRT project will be the first-ever transport system in Pakistan to use biomethane produced from animal waste as a fuel resource for its fleet of 213 buses.

The project has been renamed Karachi Breeze Red Line Project. It is approximately 29 km long, extending from Model Colony in Malir to the Mazar-e-Quaid, where it will intersect with the Green Line corridor at Numaish.

Separate consultants have been hired for the three tasks of the operational design, detailed design, and institutional development and capacity building of the project. The Exponent Engineering PVT Ltd has been working on the operational design, whereas, the task of making a detailed design has been given to the Mott MacDonald Pakistan (MMP). The institutional development and capacity building has been undertaken by Nespak and the Integrated Transport Planning Limited.

The affairs of the Red Line BRT, according to the SMTA official, are being looked after by a registered company, Trans Karachi. “The Trans Karachi will execute the project, while the SMTA will only act as the regulator. This was one of the conditions of the ADB,” the official said and added that if all goes well, the project’s construction would start in the middle of 2020.

Blue Line

The Blue Line BRT was the first BRT line that was conceived for Karachi in a concrete manner. However, now, according to the SMTA official, it is technically a dead project but the Sindh government dutifully reflects it in its budget every year.

There were grand plans to connect the gated community of Bahria Town on the Super Highway with the rest of the city through the Blue Line BRT but now the private real estate developer has withdrawn its proposal after three years of unsuccessful negotiations.

The Blue Line’s segregated infrastructure was supposed to be constructed from DHA City on the Super Highway all the way to Tower through Shahrah-e-Pakistan. The Bahria Town also consulted Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota, which is the capital of Colombia, for the project. In September 2016, it signed a framework document with the China Railway 20 Bureau Group Corporation (CR20G) for collaboration in undertaking the development of the project. The CR20G is a subsidiary of the China Railway Construction Corporation Limited and has vast experience in undertaking mass transit projects worldwide.

Since the Sindh government has included this project in its budget documents of the fiscal year 2019-20, one may assume that the government has thought of some other plan to execute it, which is yet to be revealed.

Karachi Circular Railway

What was once considered to be the lifeline for the resolution of the transport woes of the metropolis, the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) seems to be jinxed. Figuratively speaking, the project is now on a ventilator.

The circular railway’s track is a two-way 29.41-km-long loop, 13.69 kilometres of which run along the Pakistan Railways’ Main Line-1 that stretches from the City Station to the Drigh Road Station.

The KCR operations in the city started in 1969 under the administration of the Pakistan Railways and were discontinued in 1999 due to major financial losses.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) showed its interest in the project in 2009 and conducted several studies on its own to help the Sindh government make the project functional. Due to a deadlock between the two over the agency’s financial commitment to the project, Jica got out and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) came in.

The real bone of contention between Jica and the Sindh government was the relocation of Katchi Abadis surrounding the KCR track.

The Japanese agency wanted the settlements surrounding the KCR track to be relocated before it made any financial commitment while the Sindh government was adamant that there should be a financial close first.

The Supreme Court, in its order on May 9 this year, gave 15 days to the Pakistan Railways to clear the KCR’s right of way of encroachments and hand it over to the Sindh government to start its operations in the next 15 days. While the encroachments were somehow removed, the operations could not be started for two reasons.

Firstly, Nespak, which is the technical consultant of the project, designed a new track for the KCR which is 70 per cent elevated, due to which the portion of the track from the City Station till the Drigh Road needs to be rebuilt as according to the SMTA official, it is colliding with the Pakistan Railway’s Main Line-1.

The second reason is a bit more technical. The land of KCR falls under the federal government and the regulatory authority for the implementation of the KCR project, Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC), has its 65 per cent shares with the federal government while the Sindh government and the local government’s shares are 25 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

“The Sindh government is supposed to take over the KUTC and the land also needs to be transferred to the provincial government,” the official said and added that in order to continue with the project with the assistance of the World Bank and ADB, the federal government has to issue sovereign guarantee to the provincial government, which so far it has not.

Peoples Bus Service

When it comes to providing intra-city bus service, the Sindh government seems to be making the mockery of its own the most. For three years, the provincial government has been dutifully announcing intra-city bus projects for Karachi that never materialise.

It started in March 2017. When then Punjab government of the PML-N launched feeder route buses in Lahore, the Sindh government immediately announced that it would launch 600 new public buses in Karachi the same year under a five-year loan programme of the Sindh Modaraba Management Limited (SMML). It was proposed that the bus operators would themselves acquire the buses with the help of the five-year SMML loan. The project never saw the light of day.

In January 2018, the Sindh government approved Rs195 million for 32 buses under a new intra-city bus project. This project also remained a dream.

Later that year, then transport minister Nasir Hussain Shah launched 10 air-conditioned buses under the name of Peoples Bus Service as a pilot intra-city bus project with zero government investment. The government also announced that it would add 40 more buses to the fleet of the Peoples Bus Service but could not keep its promise.

This year again, in the month of May, the transport department signed an agreement with Daewoo Pakistan Express Bus Service Ltd and announced an expansion of the Peoples Bus Service by adding 1,000 luxury air-conditioned buses to the fleet, of which 200 buses were supposed to be brought to the city in 60 days.

However, the SMTA official shared that Daewoo is no longer part of the project and no new buses are going to arrive in Karachi anytime soon.

When SMTA Managing Director Iqtidar Ahmed was contacted, he referred to various project directors of his office to speak. However, no official was willing to comment as the Sindh government has barred all its officials from releasing any statement to the media.

Transport Secretary Ghulam Abbas Detho said Sindh Chief Secretary Mumtaz Ali Shah has directed him to stay away from newspaper reporters.

Despite repeated efforts, Sindh Transport Minister Awais Qadir Shah could not be contacted for his comments.

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