The authorities in Karachi once again started a campaign to clear the track to revive the Karachi Circular Railway. The successive governments announced to restore and revive the KCR. The lack of political will and interests delayed this important public transport project in ever expanding largest city of the country. Now the PTI government has announced to fully revive the KCR and clear encroachments from the railway track.
The different governments in the past tried to clear the encroachments along the track but failed to bring the desired results. The plan to revive the KCR is on hold for years. The big question is whether the efforts to clear the encroachments will succeed this time. This project already delayed for 13 years. The Japanese government was interested to provide easy soft loan for this project of public importance.
The authorities have put up the notices and banners announcing the intention to remove the illegal structures in and around the area, asking the occupants of railway lands to vacate the land voluntarily before the drive begin. The authorities took no action to stop the construction activity on the railway lands. The railway track and nearby land is encroached in many years but nobody took notice of the situation. The authorities watched this encroachment taking place as silent spectators. The timely action and measures could have stopped that encroachment.
For their part, officials of the transport department and city administration said that plans and efforts for the removal of encroachment along the KCR’s track have been in process for the past two years, but could not materialise in the absence of a resettlement plan for those who will be affected by the exercise. This anti-encroachment drive could not succeed without a clear replacements plan. It is important to provide the alternate land to the affected and then launch anti-encroachment drive to clear the track.
According to a 2013 survey report of the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), 4,653 families would have to be evicted for the revival of KCR. This figure is likely to be much higher now. The city administration has been reluctant to demolish the houses since the Sindh government has not prepared a resettlement plan for these residents. The city administration is fearful of public retaliation if residential encroachments are demolished.
In February 2017, on the instructions of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, an anti-encroachment operation was carried out on KCR land near Aladdin and Safari parks which failed due to violent protests by the residents. Anti-encroachment operations in other areas too were only partially successful and were eventually abandoned due to political pressure. The KCR track stretches along 43.2 kilometers, which includes the main line of Pakistan Railway and KCR track with 24 stations.
According to officials associated with the project, the KCR project fell prey to politics between Sindh and federal governments and has been facing delays for the last 13 years. The federal government established the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) in 2005, which began working on the feasibility of this project based on funds to be provided from JICA.
In 2013, JICA had completed the feasibility for resettlement and restoration of KCR. The government of Japan also expressed willingness to grant loans, in which costs of resettlement were included, on easy installments. JICA stressed that resettlement be carried out according to international standards to ensure a good standard of life for the residents. The Sindh government, however, wanted to administer the project on its own with funding from JICA. The latter rejected this proposal.
Later in 2016, on the CM’s request, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif negotiated with the Chinese government and added KCR to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and it was decided to hand over KCR to the Sindh government. No concrete step was taken by the previous PML-N government in that regard. The PML-N government failed to come up with a concrete plan to start work on this important project.
KCR project can provide cheap, safe and fast public transport to daily commuters. The public transport system is in ruins in Karachi. The mini buses are the main source of public transport which is already under stress and overcrowded. No big public transport project so far has been initiated and launched in the city of nearly 20 million populations. No government took the issue of public transport seriously.
There are doubts that the current anti-encroachment drive once again fail to bring the desired results as the government is not working on the strategy to provide the alternate land to affected people. Thousands of people are living on the tracks and many multi story buildings have been constructed on the track. A comprehensive plan and strategy needs to be developed to successfully complete this much delayed project.
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17 August, 2019