THE Japanese aid agency’s refusal to ‘rejoin’ the Karachi Circular Railway project is understandable. As disclosed by Sindh Transport Minister Nasir Shah, the provincial government approached the Japan International Cooperation Agency to revive the KCR but it declined — for reasons that seem obvious to all except those who had the gall to approach Jica. Japan’s involvement in the KCR project is decades old. It studied the KCR, whose rusty tracks had been buried under tonnes of dust, made technical studies, completed the report, offered technical and financial aid and awaited official approval. The go-ahead never came. All that the Japanese had asked for was the removal of illegal construction, including bungalows and factories, on KCR land. This was too much for the provincial government, for many administrations came and went but none could remove the encroachments and ask Jica to go ahead with a project that would have given Pakistan’s biggest city a modern mass transport system. Jica is not the only frustrated foreign agency that has received such treatment. In fact, as far back as 1996-97, a Canadian firm and a newly formed Indus Mass Transit Company signed an agreement with the federal government for building several corridors of elevated rail lines, but like the KCR the project never saw the light of day.

The truth is that no federal or provincial government has demonstrated the political will necessary to give Karachi a modern mode of transport. Lahore’s example comes in handy. The Punjab government has received flak, much of it justifiable, for its ‘mega’ transit projects, but while some of these ongoing projects are indeed controversial and should be reviewed, several commuters also say they have benefited from transit systems in operation. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, Mr Shah said that a ‘new’ feasibility report on the KCR had begun. This is laughable. If the minister would dust off the files, he would find many such reports. The KCR doesn’t need any more ‘studies’; it needs political will, and that is lacking.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2017

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