A committee headed by the Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad will review various components pertaining to the multi billion railway track up-gradation main line (ML-1) project. The multilateral donors including the Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had already expressed serious reservations about the financial viability of the project costing $8.2 billion. Last year Railway Minister had hinted in an interview with private TV anchor Ghrida Farouqi about the possibility of kickbacks in the agreement and expressed optimism of $ 2 billion reduction in construction cost.
It has been decided that the project will now be implemented in two phases and some of the sections of Peshawar-Karachi 1872 kilometer long railway will be excluded from the up-gradation, refurbishment and expansion plan which was finalized by the last PML-N government with Chinese consultants and investors. After assuming power PTI government was of the opinion to ensure transparency in the agreements of CPEC related projects. But now it appears that because of financial woes of country and China’s recent generous loans the agreements made by the previous government will remain secret and will not be submitted to the parliament. And as per the precedent set by the previous government Public Procurement Authority Rules of fair competition in bidding process of mega projects will not be observed. In a demonstration of obduracy Chinese consultant has refused to agree to build, transfer and operate terms for ML-1 project and the government has to accept the earlier version of engineering, procurement and contraction mode that had been agreed in the PML-N government. It is an established fact that the contracts were highly inflated in terms of cost which were awarded in the past to Chinese in the power sector.
Railway communication network has both economic and strategic importance and for the realisation of these objectives British government established it in the sub-continent. Neighbouring country India and other countries of the region made heavy investments for the modernization of their railway system. In Pakistan Railway’s up-gradation and maintenance was abandoned since 1970. However, in the government of Mohammad Khan Junejo a plan of dualisation of railway track was conceived but with the dismissal of his government on 28th May 1988 and coming to power of PPP government in December 1988 railway system improvement was no longer a priority. Nawaz Sharif in his earlier two tenures of governments spent trillions on the construction of motorways and metro bus projects but at the same time gave the worst deal to Pakistan railway. The main railway line is in dilapidated condition, small and big bridges there on have outlived its utility. The business community always complains about the shortage of bogies in goods trains from Karachi to Peshawar. To derive political mileage for PML-N in 2018 polls former Planning Minister Ahsan used to resort to sheer verbosity and concealing of bitter truth about the ML-1 project and always portrayed it a blessing in disguise which the multilateral donors completely exposed. These global lending agencies provide loans on nominal rate of interest to Pakistan as compared with high interest bearing Chinese loans. Let us hope that the present government will succeed in fast tracking the execution of railway modernization and expansion project ML-1at an affordable construction cost.