Sindh govt shelves Blue Line bus project due to financial crunch

Updated July 21, 2019

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Officials agree to relaunch the scheme once the financial health of the province improves. ─ Photo courtesy Abdul Majeed Goraya
Officials agree to relaunch the scheme once the financial health of the province improves. ─ Photo courtesy Abdul Majeed Goraya

KARACHI: A comprehensive public transport system for the people of Karachi remains a distant dream as provincial authorities have shelved the Blue Line project, one of the two Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) schemes, due to financial constraints, a top official confirmed on Saturday.

The decision to put on hold the Blue Line was taken after consultation with officials concerned in a series of meetings, which led to a consensus to relaunch the scheme once the financial health of the province improved.

The authorities, however, argued that the decision would not affect launch of other schemes and progress on already under-construction projects.

The transport minister says a tender floated earlier stands cancelled

“The Blue Line project has now been put on hold and a tender which had been floated earlier stands cancelled,” Sindh Transport Minister Syed Awais Qadir Shah told Dawn. “The reason is very simple. We are short of funds and carrying out work of already launched projects amid so [many] financial challenges. We have not done it willingly but in fact the circumstances led to such an unfortunate decision.”

When asked about the impact of the current financial challenges of the Sindh government on other transport projects, he said the provincial authorities would ensure smooth progress on all other schemes being carried out to improve public transport for Karachiites.

“It’s true that we have been managing the progress of projects like Orange Line [with difficulty], but it is our resolve to complete them within stipulated time. And we have commitment to initiate the process of Blue Line once we get the green-light in terms of the provincial government’s financial health,” he added.

According to the Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA), which was established under the SMTA Act 2016, Blue Line, which is a bus rapid transit project, was developed to evolve into an MRT scheme as ridership peaks. The project’s initial planning suggests that the 9.6-kilometre-long project was designed to go from Al-Asif Square in Sohrab Goth to Gurumandir through Shahrah-i-Pakistan.

At Gurumandir, it was advised that the project will link with the Green Line project, which is being funded by the federal government.

The Sindh transport minister’s concerns regarding the financial constraints came against the backdrop of complaints by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah who in recent month had raised the issue of cuts in federal transfers that would risk several public service schemes.

Recently, CM Shah had told the Sindh Assembly that his government had received Rs505 billion out of the federal government’s revised promise for province’s share of Rs631bn at the dying moments of the current fiscal year and the province had yet to receive Rs126bn from Islamabad.

A senior provincial government official said that the approval of a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for one of Karachi’s key transport projects had emerged as a sigh of relief for the people of the metropolis.

“The ADB has recently approved a $235 million loan for a Karachi BRT project called Red Line,” he said. “The bank has announced that the loan would support a transport system with innovative energy and climate resilience features that will enhance access to quality public transport for people in Karachi. The Red Line project will deliver a 26.6-kilometre fast-track transport corridor and associated facilities from Model Colony to Numaish, benefiting around 1.5 million people.”

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019