CPEC western route gets Rs80bn

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The government on Thursday cleared a Rs80-billion project for western route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) amid difficulties in arranging funds for new schemes due to paucity of resources.

The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) recommended the doubling of track on the Kuchlak-Zhob section of N-50 highway for approval of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec), according to a statement issued by the planning ministry.

However, the project was cleared in haste as the Ministry of Planning had received PC-I of the scheme just 12 hours before its approval, denying it time to critically review the mega project. The Kuchlak-Zhob section was cleared amid uncertainty over the fate of another western route project, Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob section of N-50, due to lack of funding.

The CDWP approved Rs67.6 billion for the construction of road and another Rs11.4 billion for the procurement of land. The project involves doubling tracks and upgrading the existing two lanes, which have 305km length on the Kuchlak-Zhob section of N-50, to four lanes.

The proposed road is part of the western alignment of CPEC that will connect Kuchlak, Muslim Bagh and Qilla Saifullah cities.

The previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had preferred the eastern route of CPEC over western alignment. “The PTI government gives priority to construction of the western route and improving socio-economic conditions in neglected areas,” remarked Federal Minister for Planning Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar. The minister said completion of the project would contribute to a smooth and efficient movement of goods and traffic in a relatively shorter time. The government wants to perform ground-breaking ceremony of the project by the end of March.

The CDWP constituted a committee comprising different stakeholders to confirm and rationalise the cost and scope of the 305km road project in two separate parts, said the planning ministry.

There is no allocation for both the projects in the current fiscal year’s Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) but the government has indicated that it will allocate resources from next fiscal year.

In 2019-20, Rs19.2 billion will be required for the Kuchlak-Zhob section. In the second year of implementation, the financial requirement is estimated at Rs23.6 billion, which will increase to Rs24.8 billion.

The annual maintenance cost of the project has been estimated at Rs67.6 million. However, the authorities also want to purchase 28 vehicles for the project at a cost of Rs57 million. The transport section of the planning ministry has objected to the cost estimate by the National Highway Authority (NHA) which, according to it, is on the higher side.

The transport section also raised questions over the availability of funds. It argued that another western route project, Dera Ismail Khan-Yarik-Zhob section of N-50 was approved by Ecnec two years ago at a cost of Rs72.5 billion. After a lapse of two years, work on the project could not start due to unavailability of funds from the Chinese side under CPEC, it added.

The transport section stated that without dualisation of the Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob section first, there was no rationale for the dualisation of Kutchlak-Zhob section.

Although the finance ministry has not yet officially indicated the size of the development budget, the planning secretary said last week that the allocation would be almost at this year’s level of Rs675 billion. This leaves little room for the initiation of work on any mega scheme.

If the government also decides to finance the Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob section from the PSDP due to absence of Chinese financing, the cumulative annual requirement of Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob and Kuchlak-Zhob section would be around Rs50 billion, said an official of the planning ministry.

The traffic flow on N-50 is very low estimated at only 4,353 vehicles per day. However, it has been projected to increase to 11,322 vehicles per day by 2038. The transport section has also objected to the allocation of Rs3.5 billion in PC-I for an intelligent transportation system. It called the Rs7-billion proposed allocation for various types of culverts on the higher side.

Overall, the CDWP accorded approval to two projects worth Rs913 million and recommended three projects costing Rs96 billion to Ecnec for its approval. The projects presented for approval were related to governance, physical planning, housing and transport and communication.

In the energy sector, the Power Division presented the ‘Interconnection of Isolated Gwadar/Mekran with National Grid System of Pakistan’ project worth Rs17.4 billion, which was referred to Ecnec.

Bakhtyar called it an important project for Gwadar’s development connecting the southern remote region with the national grid. He highlighted that availability of electricity was one of the major hurdles in the way of Gwadar’s development.

The project is expected to be completed through the Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco) in three years.

The Express Tribune