Swati expects ML-I loan approval in two weeks

Published August 1, 2021
This file photo shows federal Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati. — PID/File
This file photo shows federal Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati. — PID/File

LAHORE: Federal Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati says China is expected to approve US $6.8 billion loan for the Main Line-I (ML-I) project within next two weeks under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“Keeping in view the progress on this issue, I am sure the loan will be approved by the Exim Bank of China within next two weeks, enabling us to move ahead towards the execution of the project,” Mr Swati said while talking to senior Journalists here on Saturday.

Asked about the reported disinterest by the Chinese government because of slow pace of work on the CPEC projects, the minister dispelled the impression and claimed that it was the PTI government that had brought down the total cost of the project from $9.2 billion to 6.8 billion. “This matter has been pending since 2014. Negotiations have been underway for the last three years. I tell you clearly that they (the Chinese government) have agreed to fund and execute this project as there is no more hurdle,” he maintained.

Mr Swati said the railways was facing Rs2.5 billion loss per annum alone due to electricity theft because of non-installation of meters. “You will be surprise to hear that we are facing a huge loss in terms of power theft worth Rs2.5 billion per annum due to non-availability of meters at several railway colonies, offices etc,” he added.

‘Rs2.5bn power theft in PR in absence of meters’

The minister said he reported this matter to the PM who directed him to stop this theft by all means. He also arranged Rs1 billion or so for the installation of 26,570 meters. After a hard work of pushing the departments concerned again and again, the PR has so far been able to get just 1,870 meters installed.

“We have yet to install remaining 24,700 meters. It is a huge task in face of massive resistance from a mafia which is very powerful,” the minister said. “And now the PM has directed the authorities concerned to complete the meter installation work within a week,”

Mr Swti said the lesson he had learnt in his seven months in present office is that the only way forward to revive the railways is to outsource its train operations (both freight and passenger), dry port and other segments due to deep-routed corruption and mismanagement in the department.

“There are thousands of workers in various PR departments and almost half of them stay away from their duties by giving 50 per cent of their salary to their seniors. We have decided to use technology to ensure their attendance,” he explained.

“We have to spend around 30 to 40 million for launching a system that will check presence/attendance of all employees, including those in the field. This system is also in place in the army and some other institutions,” he said.

Mr Swati said a professional would soon join as the CEO of the Pakistan Railways Freight Transport Company (PRFTC) who would take the freight business from Rs18.5 billion to 30 billion within a year.

Talking about other issues, including the scrap, the minister said he had directed the authorities concerned to auction the entire rail scrap on goods rates by Aug 31.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021

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