More delays for Karachi's Orange Line as project shuffles between govts

According to Sindh govt, 25 buses to be procured for project have been pending for a year

Syed Ashraf Ali March 19, 2020

KARACHI: Four years after the project inauguration in 2016, the Sindh government has remained unable to procure buses for the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, also failing to ensure the timely completion of the short network that stretches over a mere 3.9 kilometres.

Owing to incompetent officers in the provincial transport department and the Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA), the Sindh government, responsible for the Orange Line BRT project, has issued a letter to the federal government. The letter requests the centre to cater to all affairs related to the project, including procurement of the buses and running them on the corridor for three years.

Lamentably, the Orange Line Bus project is suffering the same fate as several other mega projects pending with the Sindh government, including plans for transport, water supply and sewage. However, given the snail-paced construction which has hampered the bus network’s progress, the latest deadline for completion of the project - this month - seems to be a pipe dream.

“The Sindh government has issued a letter to the federal government-run Sindh Infrastructure Development Limited (SIDCL), requesting the procurement of buses for Orange and Green Line BRTs,” informed a provincial government official on conditions of anonymity. “The Sindh government has further requested SIDCL to run the buses for three years on the Orange Line network. However, it will be on the Sindh government’s expenses and the SIDCL will render the project to the provincial government after supervising it for three years,” he added.

Incompetence, bias plague project

On the other hand, a concerned official cited political appointments as a reason behind the incompetence of the provincial transport department and the SMTA to ensure timely completion of mega projects like the BRT.

Due to certain underlying reasons, in the first phase of the project, the Sindh government had requested the federal government to assume the operational and managerial affairs of the Green Line BRT for three years. But later, by the second phase, it further requested the Centre to undertake the responsibility of procuring and running the buses for the Orange Line BRT as well.

Following the orders of the Prime Minister, the federal government has agreed to supervise the Green Line BRT project. As per the approved PC-I of the Green Line Project, the federal government was to assume the responsibility of procuring the buses and completing the project, after which the network is to be handed over to the Sindh government, which will be responsible for running the buses on it.

However, now the federal government will also undertake the responsibility of managing and operating the Green Line BRT for three years before the project can be transferred to the provincial government.

No buses, no BRT

According to the Sindh government, 25 buses to be procured for the Orange Line Bus project have been pending for the past one year. Meanwhile, higher authorities in the Sindh government have divided opinion on the matter.

Where one faction believes the provincial government should handle the operational and managerial affairs of the buses, the other believes that the task should be assigned to the SIDCL instead.

Nearly a year on, the Sindh government, on the directives of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, has decided to hand over the project affairs of the Orange Line BRT to the federal government.

According to a SIDCL officer who spoke to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity, a few months ago, the Sindh government had sent a draft requesting the federal government to undertake all affairs of the Orange Line BRT project for three years, for which the provincial government would later pay.

“Upon certain conditions, SIDCL has in principle accepted the request but as per one of the conditions in the agreement, the Sindh government has to provide an advance payment for the management and procurement of the buses. So now the provincial transport department has prepared a new draft which will be sent to the SIDCL by next week with the approval of the CM,” the source informed this reporter.

As per SIDCL CEO Sauleh Farooqui, a letter from the Sindh government has been received, requesting the entity to undertake all affairs of the project for three years. “The Sindh government is yet to send the final draft but as soon as it is received, it will be sent to the SIDCL board for approval, following which the provincial and federal governments will sign the agreement,” said Farooqui. “Some 80 buses for Green Line BRT and 25 for Orange Line are to be imported, which require extended proceedings, while the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approval for the Green Line buses is expected sometime around next month,” he added.

Farooqui further shared that the SIDCL has prepared tender documents for the procurement of buses which will be sought shortly after the ECNEC’s approvals. “However, it would require three months’ time till the contract is awarded and the procurement and import of buses will take another eight months. It is expected the buses for both the BRT projects will arrive in Karachi by March 2021, following which bus operations on the two corridors will commence.”

Situation on ground

According to a survey conducted by The Express Tribune, the Orange Line Bus project is under construction, stretching from Orangi Town Office to the Matric Board Office Chowrangi and Shahrah-e-Orangi. Although civil works of the project have been completed, developmental work on the four BRT stations and the bus terminal is being carried out at a snail’s pace.

An engineer on site, on the condition of anonymity, shared that the Sindh government had set March 2020 as the project deadline. “However, it seems near impossible that the project will conclude by then. Efforts are afoot to complete works on the BRT station by May, while works on the terminal are to be completed by August,” the engineer shared.

As per The Express Tribune’s survey, work on the four stations and the bus terminal has been slow, which, if not expedited in time, will hinder the timely completion of the project by this year.

When Sindh transport secretary Ghulam Abbas Detho was contacted for his comments on the situation, he refused to answer, saying that the Sindh government had restricted him from speaking to the media.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2020.


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