FINALLY, there seems to be a ray of hope for the Karachi Circular Railway, with the main hurdle between the decades-old plan and its implementation being removed.
On Tuesday, heavy earth-moving machinery began demolishing unauthorised constructions on the KCR land and faced little resistance from the dispossessed.
The Japanese had walked away in frustration on this very issue. Like many other international aid agencies and consortiums, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency had committed itself to everything the KCR needed for its revival — technical help and financial aid — and received approval from the Pakistani side.
Its plan included a circular railway that also ran partly underground and a bit elevated. All they wanted was the removal of encroachments that had developed over the KCR land after it was wound up in the 1970s.
The variety of encroachments is bewildering: shops, eateries, auto workshops, butchers’ kiosks and bustling furniture markets.
Because they had been there for decades, their owners had developed ownership syndromes and were unwilling to give up what became prime land.
For political reasons, provincial governments didn’t feel like annoying their voters and looked the other way.
However, let’s note, one key factor in the KCR imbroglio was the absence of political will.
If the political leadership were determined to give a comfortable mass transit system to one of the world’s biggest cities, the encroachments could have been removed.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, the KCR tracks — in some cases lying buried under tonnes of debris and earth — will soon be available for what they were meant for.
But this is not the end of the story. A greater challenge lies before the federal and provincial governments, since the KCR is now part of CPEC.
Involving as it does Islamabad, the PPP-run Sindh government and Pakistan’s CPEC partner, the KCR project requires trilateral cooperation.
Hopefully, technical problems will not lead to bureaucratic bickering, and further delaying the completion of what is indeed a vital component of urban life.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018