Our transport system is in dire straits; vehicles remain queued for hours during rush hours, the CNG supply shuts down frequently — creating more havoc for the travellers all around the country — and buses are full to the brim, most of the time.
Given that the ratio of available seating capacity to the population in Karachi is 1:40, compared with 1:12 in Mumbai and 1:8 in Hong Kong, the existing public transport system of the city is inadequate. Over time, it has become a liability and burden on the commuters. Substandard services are provided to the people and we continue suffering.
Good news came when the Sindh government, once again, pledged to revive the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). This project — if implemented — will probably face enormous challenges.
The first and most important of these is the resettlement of those who reside on or beside the KCR track.
The government’s failure in resettling (with due compensation) and satisfying the residents of the katchi abadis will only halt work midway — like the Lyari Expressway Project in Karachi. Work on the rehabilitation and repair of the KCR infrastructure should not start until those whose homes and businesses are destroyed are properly resettled.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment Report on the KCR, amongst those living on or near the KCR’s right of way, 55.6 per cent of the persons surveyed agreed to relocate if compensated. The surrounding communities need to be involved on a broader scale and the authorities concerned should probably speed up this process — it will take the dwellers time to overcome their reservations.
The relocation process should be prioritised on the basis of total household income, employment status, occupancy status of the house, family health condition, effect of relocation on livelihood and other related factors. In addition to this, while appointing people for KCR related jobs, utmost preference should be given to affected persons. Similarly, those shopkeepers, who will have to abandon their businesses because of relocation, must be given shops on the KCR railway stations.
Furthermore, instead of taking loans from foreign agencies, the government should consider alternative options for generating money for the KCR. Investments and sponsorships from various national and international market leaders could be attracted, by the KCR authorities, through direct business ventures. This method has been successfully implemented by the Dubai Metro, where, by the year 2011, approximately two billion UAE dirhams were raised just by branding 10 stations.
The government can also look into the option of inviting private transport companies to operate and manage the train service — this would result in a reduction of expenditure on buying rails and engines as they will be owned by the companies operating them.
Lastly, it should be kept in mind that the KCR alone cannot resolve Karachi’s transport problems. Other projects like the Bus Rapid Transit system must also be initiated in line with the KCR.
To travel from one place to another in ease, comfort and safety is a basic right of the citizens. It is about time the authorities concerned got down to business. They need to launch and properly execute ventures like the KCR project.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2013.
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