Given Sindh govt’s history, many transport projects in budget may not see the light of day

Since the past 12 years, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led (PPP) Sindh government seems to be on a mysterious mission to provide a rehabilitation facility to motor vehicle drivers in the province.

Since the project has never materialised despite its inclusion in the budget document for many consecutive years, no one knows what kind of ‘rehabilitation’ the provincial government intends to provide to drivers.

The proposed project, which has been named ‘Rehabilitation of the Drivers Training School’, is to be completed under a public-private partnership in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana. It has regularly been a part of the Sindh transport and mass transit department’s annual budget since the fiscal year 2009-10.

Every year, the target date of the project’s completion moves one year ahead. Last year, it was June 2020. This year, it is June 2021 with an estimated cost of Rs102 million. Likewise, the construction of bus terminals in Thatta, Badin and Kamber-Shahdadkot, has been a regular feature of the provincial budget since almost a decade. It has been featured in this year’s budget once again with an estimated cost of Rs280 million.

Ironically, when Sindh Transport Secretary Ghulam Abbas Detho was contacted for a comment, he responded that just a day before the budget, he was barred by the Sindh government to give any statement to the media regarding the budget.

A sad tale

Being continuously in power for 12 years in Sindh, the PPP government could not even provide one mega transport project to Karachi.

After glorifying several failed intra-city and intercity bus projects for over a decade, the provincial government did not even bother to mention any of them in this year’s budget, other than three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects.

The provincial government dutifully repeated the same old transport projects that have been lingering on for several years as it announced the provincial budget for 2020-21 on Wednesday.

BRTs and KCR

For the ongoing schemes of the transport and mass transit department, the Sindh government has increased the budget by Rs1.2 billion compared to the last year and allocated Rs6.4 billion for them in the Annual Development Programme (ADP).

In addition to the aforementioned amount, Rs5.682 billion would be spent on the transport schemes through the Foreign Project Assistance (FPA), according to the ADP document. The FPA for the last year was Rs11.175 billion.

The 3.9-kilometre-long Orange Line BRT from Orangi Town’s Municipal Administration Office to the Matric Board Office was first reflected in the ADP of 2014-15 and was supposed to be completed by June, 2017. The project has not yet seen the light of day. However, in the new budget, its cost has been estimated at Rs2.3 billion with June 2021 as the target date of completion.

An official of the transport department, on condition of anonymity, told The News that the structure of the BRT track has been completed with the delay of more than two years and now they are working on the construction of bus stations.

Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said in his budget speech that the project would be completed by June 2020. It is pertinent to mention here that even if the project gets completed, there is no chance of BRT buses plying it, as the federal government is yet to issue tender for them.

The Red Line BRT is another major transport scheme for Karachi that has been allocated funds in the budget with June 2022 as the target date of completion. The estimated cost of the project is Rs12.008 billion.

This BRT line stretches over 31km all the way from Safoora Chowrangi to Tower. It was first included in the 2015-16 ADP, in which 85 per cent of funds for the project were to be arranged through a Chinese loan and the remaining to be provided by the Sindh government.

In the 2016-17 ADP, the Red Line BRT was divided into three components, which were detailed design, capacity building, and operation and technical assistance. The project was to be partially funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Under the Karachi Urban Mobility project, another BRT, Yellow Line, has been included in the ADP as a World Bank-assisted project with an estimated cost of Rs2.5 billion and June 2025 as its targeted month of completion. In the 2017-18 budget, the shifting of utility lines for the Yellow Line BRT was included in the ADP as an unapproved project with a target completion date of June, 2020.

As for the Integrated Intelligence Transportation System (IITS) for Karachi, Rs5.01 billion has been earmarked with its completion targeted in June 2021.

For the last two years, the same amount has been allocated for the project with the target date of completion extending every year. The IITS is a federally-funded project, under which the federal government-funded Green Line BRT from Surjani Town till Tower and Orange Line BRT will function and later all other BRT lines will be included in this system.

Funds have also been included for the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project for the fourth consecutive time. The KCR was reflected in the 2017-18 ADP after a gap of several years. According to the budget document, fencing along the existing alignment of the KCR would be completed by June 2021 at an estimated cost of Rs230 million.

In the 2017-18 budget, Rs241 million was earmarked for the construction of a fence along the existing alignment of the KCR as an ‘unapproved project’ with the completion date in June 2020. The project was supposed to be jointly funded by the Sindh government and China.

The project has now been included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its new detailed design was prepared by the Sindh government last year.

What has been new this year for the KCR is the construction of flyovers and underpasses on the railway crossing along the KCR route with an estimated cost of Rs5 billion and a targeted date of completion of June 2022.

No intra-city bus project

For a transport-starved Karachi, the Sindh government, this year did not allocate any amount for any intra-city bus service, other than the construction of few intra-city bus terminals. For the last four years, the provincial government had been dutifully announcing intra-city bus projects for Karachi that never materialised.

It started in March 2017 when then Punjab government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz 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.

Last 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. Daewoo is no longer part of the project.

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