ISLAMABAD, Feb 27: The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) on Tuesday approved an ambitious programme to introduce CNG-based public transport system in all major cities in five years. The project is aimed at replacing the existing diesel vehicles with CNG buses.

The government will provide Rs5 billion to partially offset interest costs of loans companies may need from banks to put in place the required infrastructure and purchase buses.

Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Akram Sheikh presided over the CDWP meeting which approved 40 development schemes worth Rs16.6 billion, including revisions and cost overruns of 10 projects. Out of the 40 schemes, 21 worth Rs9.6 billion are in the infrastructure sector, 14 projects of Rs4.7 billion in the social sector and the remaining five in other sectors.

The projects approved include Rs1.9 billion President Musharraf’s initiative to provide scholarships to 5,500 students of Balochistan and Fata for education in top institutions in the country.

Briefing the media, Planning Commission’s spokesman Mohammad Asif Sheikh said that since CNG buses were normally expensive, the government would share the interest portion of loans to enable the private sector to establish companies with not less than 50 CNG buses.

Member (infrastructure) Dr Asad Shah told reporters that an inter-ministerial steering committee had been constituted to work out operational details of the project.

He said that about 500-600 CNG buses will hit Karachi roads early next financial year, followed by Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Rawalpindi-Islamabad.

The provincial governments will provide land for parking and related requirements to these companies on lease to reduce initial costs.

Planning Commission’s spokesman said that under the president’s programme, 3,300 students from Balochistan and 2,200 from Fata would be provided scholarship for getting education in public and private sector colleges and universities. Twenty per cent of these scholarships will be reserved for girls but there will be no bar if the number of female students goes up.

Mr Asif Sheikh said the CDWP approved a project worth Rs1.2 billion to set up 10 provincial coordination centres and 40 regional surveillance units to control bird flu, and to strengthen poultry laboratories all over the country.

He said the government was able to release 42 per cent (Rs90 billion) of the Rs213 billion Public Sector Development Programme during the first six months of the current year. Of this, Rs88 billion was utilised by line ministries and the pace of utilisation was better than last year.

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