KARACHI: Amid the ongoing water crisis in the city, the news that the federal government would be establishing a desalination plant came as a relief.
According to the newly announced budget, several new mega projects will be initiated in Karachi and assistance will be provided from the Centre for several of the provincial government’s pending projects.
In his budget speech on Friday, Finance Minister Dr Miftah Ismail announced the different projects for Karachi – the long-awaited water supply project K-IV, the desalination plant, procurement of buses for the Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and other construction projects at a cost of Rs25 billion.
"Karachi is the commercial and trading hub of Pakistan and has a major contribution in the country's revenue base," Ismail said during his budget speech. "The PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz] government, after coming to office in 2013, successfully restored law and order in Karachi, giving confidence to the business community and rejuvenating economic activity there."
Since the K-IV’s completion is nowhere in sight, the federal government has decided to gift Karachi a desalination plant to be installed in partnership with the private sector.
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"To solve this long-standing problem, the federal government is today announcing a new scheme of a sea water desalination plant. This plant will be built by the private sector and will produce 50 million gallons of water a day. It will be my honour to play a role in solving the water problem for my city. For this purpose, the federal government will bridge the viability gap in partnership with the private sector," announced Ismail.
However, an official of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity that the desalination plant is nothing but a deception. Such ventures have been promised in Karachi before as well.
The Defence House Authority (DHA) installed a desalination plant which never worked. The plant, built on 10 acres in DHA Phase-VIII headed towards liquidation after its owner failed to start full-fledged operations and the lenders demanded their money back.
The plant was a Cogen desalination plant being run by Cogen DHA Limited. The plant was supposed to produce 94 megawatts of energy and had a production capacity of approximately 14 million litres of drinking water daily. It was considered to be a key component of a $600million infrastructure project. However, the KWSB official said that during the test, the plant’s shafts started vibrating and then broke, after which it never kicked off.
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It was not clear in the budget speech, whether the desalination plant would be part of the Rs25 billion package or some separate allocations would be made for it.
Karachi's water woes are not a recent occurrence. In 2007, the K-IV project was conceived and was supposed to be completed by 2010. However, due to political turmoil in the city the project kicked off in the 2016.
The K-IV is spread over a 120-kilometre-long route. It is supposed to supply 260 million gallons of water per day from Indus River at a cost of Rs25 billion. Earlier, it was supposed to be completed by June, 2018, however, the deadline is now 2019.
A few months ago, Sindh Local Government Minister Jam Khan Shoro announced in the Sindh Assembly that they have finished around 40% of the work on this project and it will now be possible to complete the remaining work in the next three months. The Sindh government has given the project's contract to the Frontier Works Organisation but due to some unavoidable complications, the first completion target could not be met, according to Shoro.
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Commenting on this project in his speech, Ismail said that it was agreed during the tenure of the previous government that the Pakistan Peoples Party-led federal government would pay one-third of the cost of the K-IV project in Karachi. "However, no money was ever paid and the project never took off the ground. It was the PML-N government that started giving funds for the K-IV and Mian Nawaz Sharif also agreed to pick up 45% of the total cost. However, it is taking the provincial government a long time to complete the project, due to which the cost over-run has crossed 400%," he said.
Green Line BRT
The city’s dream of a mass transit system inched closer to reality when then prime minister Nawaz Sharif laid down the foundations of the Green Line BRT in February 2016, hoping that it would be completed by June, 2017 at a cost of Rs16.8 billion up till Guru Mandir.
The project has yet to be completed and its scope was enhanced till Numaish and later till Tower, with its estimated cost increased to Rs24.6 billion in 2017.
Currently, according to the chief financial officer of the Green Line BRT, Zubair Channa, the structure of the project from Abdullah Chowrangi in Surjani Towin till Guru Mandir is complete and will be inaugurated in mid of May by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. "Station fixation work is under way," Channa explained, adding that by the end of June they would hand over the entire route to the Sindh government with 14 bus stations installed.
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Due to certain changes in the design, the project’s cost till Guru Mandir has also been increased to Rs17.8 billion, all of which is funded by the federal government.
After the inauguration of the structure, the real question will be who will operate it. The Sindh government does not seem to be ready to operate buses on the Green Line’s segregated corridor any time soon.
Ismail offered to rescue the provincial government from a mess of its own making. "The Lahore and Multan metros were built using provincial funds, however, the Green Line BRT in Karachi is being funded by the federal government. In the current financial year, Rs16 billion has been spent on this project. The road and bridges are ready, but the provincial government has yet to issue contracts for procurement of buses. On behalf of the federal government, I am today offering that if the Sindh government is unable to get buses for Karachi, the federal government will do so," he said. However, no provincial government official was available to comment on the issue.
The prime minister's package includes infrastructure and other social sectors facilities. So far, three projects covering roads and flyovers and the upgrade of the city’s fire fighting system have been approved and Rs3 billion has been earmarked during the current financial year. An allocation of Rs5 billion has been proposed in the Public Sector Development Programme 2018-19. "In addition to this, on my personal request Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal has provided funds for the expansion of the Karachi Expo Centre," Miftah had said.
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These projects are expected to be carried out by the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company, which was formed by the federal government to look after the construction work of the Green Line BRT.