The apex court on Thursday gave the government four more weeks to revamp the railways infrastructure on the Planning Commission’s request.
Hearing a suo motu case about the losses incurred by the Pakistan Railways, a Supreme Court bench headed Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed also sought a progress report on the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) from the Sindh government.
“The bridge built by the British at Kotri is still in a good condition, while the Karachi-Hyderabad bridge might collapse at any time,” the chief justice remarked. “There is no bridge on the Indus [River] that the nation could be proud of,” he added.
The chief justice observed that bridges constructed in the country during Ayub Khan’s era were better than those built afterwards. "Good bridges should be built for the ML-1 [railway] project."
The railways secretary informed the court that work on ML-1 under “package-1” of the project would be completed in three years during which state-of-the-art bridges would be constructed.
The chief justice responded that the time period of three years was too long.
“The Chinese lay railway lines in months,” he noted. “If funds are available, then the project should not take time to complete. Laying a 1,800-km track is not a problem for China.”
The Karachi commissioner informed the court that a tender had been issued for the fencing of railway stations in Karachi. The apex court later adjourned the hearing for four weeks.
Last month, the top court had ordered a complete overhaul of the Pakistan Railways and retrenchment of its “incompetent” employees.
The court noted that the Pakistan Railways was not being operated in accordance with its rules and manuals as a result of which accidents were taking place frequently, causing loss of precious lives and great damage.
It had advised the government to start an overhaul of the railways and submit a comprehensive report to the court through the Planning Commission within a month.
In February, Planning and Development Asad Umar had assured the court that efforts would be made to have the strategically important ML-1 railway project of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).
Earlier this month, Ecnec approved the $6.8 billion project, finding a middle ground to commence work on the project so that the concerns of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about debt sustainability could be addressed.
The government has designed the “package-1” of ML-1 keeping in mind the IMF ceiling that restricts its spending on the project during its programme period at $2.5 billion.
The ceiling will not affect the pace of construction as work on “package-2” of the project – costing worth $2.7 billion -- will start a year after work on “package one” has kicked off.
The apex court has also directed the officials concerned to ensure that the Karachi Circular Railway became operational this year.
Hearing a case this month about the intra-city rail service's restoration, the CJP expressed his displeasure when the railways secretary stated the KCR track was nearly cleared.
"The deadline given [for the KCR restoration] has expired. Why has it not been restored?" he asked, at which the railways secretary responded that there were some obstructions due to the Green Line bus rapid transit project.
When the court turned to the advocate general to ask if the Sindh government had done anything in this regard, the latter explained that underpasses and overhead bridges were being built to deal with this, while the transport secretary added Rs5 billion had been allocated for the KCR in the provincial budget of which Rs3 billion had been released.
Irked, the CJP remarked that all tasks given to the government dragged on indefinitely, adding that the work should be assigned to capable people.
The court ordered the completion of underpasses, flyovers, fencing and other work related to the KCR within the stipulated time.