ONE must have a lively sense of humour to enjoy news concerning the Karachi Circular Railway project. As a report in this newspaper says, the Sindh government and the railway ministry have decided to sort out all KCR problems, and agreed to hand over the Karachi Urban Transport Company to the provincial government. However, all that the decision does is to enable the Sindh government to get financial approval from the CPEC-related Joint Coordination Committee, which will meet in Beijing in April. Some progress indeed. The truth is that for decades the KCR has been a media affair. Ministers, bureaucrats, ‘experts’ and occasionally foreign donors have uttered thousands of words which they never cared to eat but which a gullible media has dutifully focused on. The end-result has been shameful inaction bordering on anti-citizen criminality.
Before independence, Karachi had a mass transit system in embryonic form, with trams connecting residential areas with business centres. This was an adequate transport structure for a city whose population was less than half a million. In post-independence Karachi, the only step towards a train-based transport network was taken during the Ayub era when the KCR was launched. It carried commuters from the suburbs to the industrial area, connecting ultimately with the mainline railway. Its closure in the 1970s now seems to have become permanent. The Japanese offered money and technical help to revive it, and all they wanted was the removal of encroachments on KCR land. No government could accomplish this feat. Last year, on a court order, encroachments were demolished but the project itself remains frozen, even as thousands of families lost their homes. What is missing is political will of the kind we saw in Lahore. Bureaucrats will continue to make plans which will never be translated into action, because there is no one who could consider the KCR his or her own project and show determination to overcome all hurdles to give one of the world’s biggest cities a comfortable transport system.
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2020